One of the issues that keeps coming up lately is the question of what kinds of speech or expression most represent what are often termed “American values.” Can you be a patriot if you don’t think your country is perfect? Is there a difference between “nationalism” and “patriotism”? Like so much in these times, the questions are not new, and in many ways can be traced back to July 14, 17-98, the date when Congress passed the Sedition Act. The Sedition Act made it a crime to publish false, malicious and scandalous news stories about the government. Under the act more than a dozen people were arrested, and most of them spent time in jail.
Today those who are not sufficiently supportive of this or that social or political theory are criticized as not being representative of the “real” America. Actually, I always believed that those who have thought about the issues and have spoken out, for or against, are more patriotic than those who simply have knee-jerk reactions either for or against something. People who analyze and then criticize, or support, have at least given some thought to what they are talking about. It really doesn’t take much dedication, thought or fervor to say nothing. It’s all-too-easy to sit on the sidelines and simply complain about those who are in favor or opposed to current policies, whether we’re talking about war, economics, health care or the environmental. Unfortunately, we are too often seeing free speech shut down because the speaker disagrees with what is rapidly becoming what we might call the “enforced consensus.” Patriotism should be measured by how willing you are to let the other person say what they want, without interference. As the historian Herodotus said, around 450 B.C., “It is freedom of speech, which has made the Athenians so far exceed every other state in greatness!” I’m Larry Burriss.