2002-10-05 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

I have been writing columns for The Wave for more than a dozen years, totaling probably more than 1,000 columns, and I don’t think that there has been a single column in all that time that has not angered at least one reader.

That is as it should be.

Columns are made up of opinion and opinion often angers those who are diametrically opposed to that opinion.

I once wrote that public schools are better for our democracy than parochial schools. I got hundreds of letters. The priest at St. Camillus took time during the Sunday sermon to ask that I be fired from The Wave and suspended from the public schools.

That is as it should be.

For a democracy to survive, there must be a forum of ideas. That forum of ideas cannot exist when people are sanctioned for speaking their mind.

Journalists have more protection than most. The First Amendment protects "Freedom of Speech," and then goes further specifically to protect "Freedom of Press."

That is because our Founding Fathers understood something in the 1700’s that we no longer understand today.

What they understood, after years under King George’s yoke, was that speech, even hate speech, even abhorrent speech, even fighting words, even things that we don’t like to hear, is inimical to freedom.

We don’t understand that today.

Today, political correctness reigns. "Don’t hurt anybody’s feelings" is the mantra of the politically correct.

"Honesty hurts," the politically correct say. "It is not nice to hurt somebody."

That political correctness is written into "hate speech" statutes. It is chiseled in stone in university codes of behavior.

"Don’t say or do anything that will hurt another person or group of people," they say.

Why not, I ask?

Did I offend the sensibilities of those who believe in religious education by saying that public school education is better? Of course I did. So What?

Should I constantly worry that what I write will offend somebody? Should I stop saying what I believe because one group or another will take offense to what I say?

What happened to democracy? What happened to freedom of speech?

A student commentator at a football game between Columbia University and Fordham University makes a joke during the half-time ceremonies. His satiric remark alludes to altar boys and the recent scandals in the Catholic Church. Fordham, a Jesuit University, takes umbrage with the quip.

The church hierarchy attacks the student. He is attacked by officials at Fordham University. He is verbally attacked by the students at Fordham. The president of the Catholic League calls the student "a typical Ivy League Brat."

Columbia University quickly apologizes to the university and to its students.

For What? For hurting the feelings of the students at the Catholic university by telling a joke that reflects the truth of what had been happening?

Give me a break!

The President says that the Democrats care more for partisan politics than for homeland security.

The Democrats demand an apology. For what?

Does the truth hurt? Too Bad!

I write in a column that the kids at PS 114 in Belle Harbor do better on standardized tests than the students at PS 42 in Arverne. I argue that swapping teachers and administrators would make no difference, that it’s the kids that make the difference.

I get dozens of letters and e-mails from the Arverne community demanding an apology.

For what?

For telling the truth?

Does the truth hurt? Do something to change the truth; don’t demand an apology from the person that points out that truth.

A Muslim man shoots up the ticket counter at El Al Airlines in Los Angeles on July 4.

The feds say that it might not be a terrorist attack, even though every person over the age of ten in America can see that it was just that.

Federal agencies take four months to declare that it "might be" a terrorist attack.

They don’t want to hurt the feelings of Muslims who live in America.

Too bad!

When Saudi Arabia demands that our servicewomen fighting for democracy in the Middle East wear Burkas and be escorted by males whenever they leave their bases, when we allow that to happen, then we are taking the proverbial slippery slope.

When we stop saying what we believe because we are afraid that we will somehow injure the feelings of some person or group of people, then dialogue ends. Where dialogue ends, democracy cannot be far behind.

It is time for people to begin speaking out against political correctness, to begin the dialogue that has died in many parts of this nation – particularly on college campuses. It is time for people to stop punishing others for what they say.

Our Founding Fathers had it right the first time around. Speech is the most important freedom that we enjoy as Americans and we should not throw it away on an alter of political correctness.


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