Originally published in the Albany Student Press, 2/10/06

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a little bit on the liberal side.

I would say I’m only a step or two left of center. Which means, if you ask a conservative, I am a pinko commie liberal. If you ask another liberal, I am “wishy-washy.” If you ask an extreme liberal, I might as well be Ronald Reagan.

It is a little bit frustrating. A few weeks ago I got called a colorful expletive by someone I thought was a friend over some ludicrous political issue. I remembered thinking that maybe, just maybe, McCarthyism was not such a bad thing.

Except I do not really think that. I believe in the First Amendment. I believe in everything it stands for, and I believe in the power it gives us, whether we choose to embrace it or not.

But, sometimes, I wish some people would refrain from embracing it.

Some of you might be following the international story about the Danish newspaper that was admonished for printing what were perceived as derogatory cartoons about Islam. One of the cartoons featured the prophet Mohammed with, instead of a turban, a bomb strapped to his head. From what I have read, many Muslims are not so much angered by the message of the cartoon, but that Mohammed is depicted at all. In Islam, it is considered a mortal sin to have an image of Mohammed, as it is viewed as false idolatry.

The Islamic community around the world is in an uproar over these cartoons, demanding apologies from the Danes. The Danish embassy in Syria was set on fire last week, definitely crossing the line from peaceful demonstration to all out riot. I have been following the story, silently rooting for the editors of Jyllands-Posten. Whether or not you agree with it, it is freedom of speech. I do not know the specifics of what the Danish laws are on the freedom we Americans take for granted, but I think everyone, if nothing else, should have our First Amendment. For it is with that power that the people can form the society they desire.

Some Muslims have said that many people only agree with freedom of speech so long as it is not insulting to said people. Meaning, it is okay to print cartoons poking fun at Islam, but not to print a cartoon poking fun at Judaism. I noted Christianity or American politics were not mentioned. Then again, I remember the Catholic community – including myself – being angry at Pat Oliphant for his cartoon about “St. Paedophilia’s and the running of the altar boys,” published not long after the pedophilia scandal broke, and, more importantly, in the middle of the Catholic Holy Week.

I find I catch myself being self-selecting about who can have freedom of speech. Fred Phelps (of “God Hates Fags” fame) has been encouraging his “followers” to protest at the burials of soldiers, saying that these soldiers are fighting for a country that harbors gays, so we should not mourn the soldiers for their sacrifice. I think it is horrendous to protest at anyone’s funeral or burial for any reason, but though cemeteries might be considered consecrated ground, they are also open to the public.

How can I defend Jyllands-Posten and not Fred Phelps?

It makes me sick – but as much as I think what Phelps is doing is abominable, he has that right, according to our First Amendment. We cannot be selective about who should have the right of free speech, as much as we sometimes really wish we could be.

The good news is, while no one has the right to riot, overreact, and set embassies on fire, we do have the right to thumb our noses at anything we disagree with. Voltaire did not say we had to agree with the words of others, only defend their rights to say those words.