Rights that protect hate groups safeguard everyone's freedoms
Two recent letters criticized the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for its efforts to protect free speech and privacy ("Protecting hate and guns fosters a killing society," Aug. 24).
Both letters suggested that the ACLU is somehow responsible for recent acts of violence throughout the county.
The ACLU, like most citizens, was horrified by these acts of terror. In no way do we support the doctrines behind these violent acts or these hateful actions. However, the ACLU does not believe restricting speech is the answer.
The constitutional right to freedom of speech in no way prevents punishing conduct that intimidates, harasses or threatens another person -- even if words are used. In fact, the ACLU itself has supported carefully drafted, speech-protective hate crimes legislation.
We have other, better means of countering hate groups than restricting speech. The ACLU has long championed the rights of ethnic, racial and religious minorities and has facilitated thousands of public education projects that have generated greater understanding.
But perhaps this point is most important: Restricting the speech of one group or individual jeopardizes everyone's rights because the same laws or regulations used to silence bigots can be used to silence other unpopular voices.
We should not give the government authority to decide which opinions are hateful, for history has taught that it is more likely to use this power to prosecute minorities than to protect them.
Laws that defend free speech for bigots guarantee the rights of civil rights workers, anti-war protesters, lesbian and gay activists and others fighting for justice.
The ACLU's First Amendment cases through the years prove this: Our clients have included labor activists, gay activists trying to organize a march on the Eastern Shore, members of the New Party circulating petitions and socialists trying to leaflet -- as well as the Ku Klux Klan.
If Americans are to be the masters of their fate and of their elected government, they must be well-informed and have access to all ideas and points of view.
Prohibiting the KKK or other hate groups organizations from expressing their ideas in public will not stop members from being bigoted.
In fact, this suppression could lead to a false sense of security and potentially undermine the freedoms that our country has fought so long to preserve.
Susan Goering, Baltimore
The writer is executive director of the ACLU of Maryland.
Don't revoke Constitution trying to make us safer
While it is understandable that Americans are outraged by the violence erupting throughout the country, the remedies proposed by five authors of Aug. 24 letters are completely unconscionable.
In letters under the heading "To stop hate crimes, ban hate-mongering," "Protecting hate and guns fosters a killing society" and "Easy access to guns contributes to tragedies" the authors' underlying messages are all similar: Revoking the Bill of Rights and eliminating groups that defend it will make America a safer place.
What would our Founding Fathers say to the restrictions proposed and intolerance demonstrated by these writers?
Andrew Coale, Lutherville
It was most frightening to read Sun readers' reactions to the shooting at the Los Angeles Jewish Community Center.
I am second to none in my disdain for the Nazi philosophy. To suggest, however, that we can censor "hate speech" and keep the First Amendment is to suggest the impossible.
If we wish to censor hate speech because people have died as a result of these ideas, why should we stop with the Nazis? Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and China's Chairman Mao Tse-tung also killed millions of people.
So let's go to the library and burn every copy of "Mein Kampf" and "The Communist Manifesto."
Let's burn the Constitution, too.
Dennis Olver, Baltimore
Country still needs militia 2nd Amendment enables
As a former National Guard officer and combat veteran who has never had any connection to the National Rifle Association, I wish to comment on Albert Denny's letter ("Would gun control have prevented Los Angeles shooting," Aug 17).
Mr. Denny said: "The NRA falls back on the Second Amendment to the Constitution. But when the Bill of Rights was ratified more than 200 years ago, America was a vastly different nation . . ."
By Mr. Denny's reasoning, the entire Bill of Rights should be considered an anachronistic nullity to be disregarded by liberal journalists and politicians.
But what has not changed since the Bill of Rights was enacted is the need for a self-armed, "well-regulated" militia (as distinguished from armed mobs) in case of invasion or civil emergencies, after wartime mobilization of the National Guard -- which is what what the Second Amendment expressly concerns.
As an escaped prisoner of war and otherwise, I have seen enemy and allied folk militias in action. Their wartime assistance to regular armed forces is essential.
Willis Case Rowe, Baltimore
Only hermits can have unlimited human rights
In his letter "Protect our students, but don't violate teens' rights" (Aug. 24) Sy Steinberg objects to our increasing loss of freedom, as evidenced by the installation of TV monitors and police at Columbine High School.
The misconception of people who think this way is that our Constitution guarantees us unlimited human rights. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Only hermits have unlimited rights. In society, these rights are necessarily limited for the common good.
A simple example is that we have given up our right to drive through intersections at will. We must obey the stop signs -- otherwise, there would be chaos.
Experience here and around the world clearly indicates that gun control needs to be strengthened and strictly enforced.
Other measures, like those at Columbine High, become necessary when further protection is required.
Our founders never intended us to have the freedom to die violently.
Marion Friedman, Baltimore
Water-use limits for all promoted ethic of sharing
William Niskanen's column criticizing the governor for imposing state-wide water-use limits ("Glendening's heat stroke," Opinion Commentary, Aug. 20) is typical of the attitude of members of the Cato Institute.
Enveloped in their think-tank cocoon, they promote individuality and privatization -- and feel little inclination to support any common cause.
The drought is a test of whether we can let go of our selfishness and pull together for the common good. Differences in water supply between one place and another are beside the point.
The governor deserves kudos for having applying emergency measures to the whole state. To do anything less would have divided the state into factions, which would have squabbled with one another.
This way, we all shared in the crisis. I'd like to see this ethic reinforced -- without the whining from self-interested groups.
We live in a world where potable water is becoming increasingly scarce. It is past time we learn conservation and thrift.
Philip A. Stahl, Columbia
William Niskanen's article indicated that he is either uninformed on Maryland's water problems or avoiding the real problems associated with the drought.
Expanding population and sprawling development have changed the face of Maryland and placed enormous demands on natural resources, including water.
Although these patterns are not entirely to blame for current weather trends, they do exacerbate the problem.
Mr. Niskanen overlooks that Marylanders have had to share the pain of the drought, because we have all contributed to our current environment.
Even when drought does not strike, and in places where water restrictions are not in place, small sacrifices can go a long way toward saving one of our most precious resources.
David Bigham, Baltimore
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Pub Date: 9/03/99