Let Freedom Ring

Radio talk show host Michael Graham is claiming his recent dismissal from ABC Radio for defaming Islam was an attack on the First Amendment, but his termination was actually a step towards defending the rights codified in that Amendment.

Rights extend only as far as they do not violate the rights of others. This is a truism understood by activists from all rays of the political spectrum. They understand that free speech is not absolute – that it ends where it infringes on the rights of others.

Examples of free speech limits are numerous. We cannot yell ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater, joke about having a bomb at airports or incite others to commit crimes. Defamation, libel and slander are other examples of impermissible speech. Such speech brings harm to the public and no one argues that these restrictions are censorship – they are recognized as responsible limits in consideration of public safety.

The lyricists of the Broadway musical Shenandoah understood freedom when they wrote: ‘Freedom is a flame that burns within ya, Freedom is a state of mind.’ Freedoms are not simply ideas codified on parchment, encased in bulletproof glass and stowed away in our national archives. Freedom is a feeling – a realization that we can freely express ourselves without fear of unwarranted reprisals. Simply put, we are not free if we do not feel free.

Right-wing radio talk show host constantly spread unwarranted fear and hatred against Muslims by wrongfully associating the religion of Islam with terrorism and portraying all Muslims as terrorists – despite the fact that Islam teaches its followers to never commit such acts. They do not debate – they dictate. But these pundits are not alone.

The ‘Islam’ sections in your local bookstores possess a feature not shared by other religion sections: books maliciously attacking the religion. Somehow, it is fashionable to write, publish and distribute books that spread false information about Islam and hatred against Muslims. Those who malign an entire faith and demonize its followers find it perfectly acceptable to make Muslims feel unwanted in America.

However, it is imperative that we understand that we lose grasp of the principles of freedom if we consider it tolerable to make Muslims feel un-free in the ‘Land of the Free’. Have we forgotten that freedom denied to one is freedom lost by all?

Radio talk show hosts often justify their malicious attacks on Islam and Muslims by claiming that no one has the right to not be offended. However, what is happening to Muslims in America goes far beyond being offended. In fact, the collective effect of their voices joined in a chorus of hatred is a religious community under siege in the land that promised them freedom.

On August 9, an eight-month pregnant Muslim woman in Virginia was attacked by a group of men yelling anti-Muslim and racial slurs. On August 8, a Rhode Island Muslim family’s home was burned down. On July 29, a mosque in California was vandalized. On July 9, arsonists set fire to an Indiana mosque. On July 5, a mosque in Maryland was vandalized and the list of anti-Muslim hate crimes continues.

The incidents listed above are only a small number and only from July and August of this year. Anti-Muslim hate incidents number in the tens, if not hundreds of thousands. Women who wear religiously-mandated head scarves are regularly harassed, assaulted and even violently attacked. Muslim men face harassment, job discrimination and much worse. Muslim children are being scared into hiding their religious identity for fear of ridicule.

Where is their freedom?

Pundits who twist the truth for the purpose of trampling on the rights of others breach the bounds of what should be considered allowable speech. No one has the right to take away the right of others to feel secure and free to openly express their religious identity. These Islamophobes are not free speech advocates – they are free speech violators.

ABC Radio should be applauded for understanding that misusing speech to violate the First Amendment rights of others is immoral, harmful to society and does not fall within the realm of responsible speech. It is the hopes of those who desire to see the flame of freedom burning brightly in the hearts of all peoples that other media outlets begin to understand that freedom is not the sole domain of those behind their microphones and keyboards.

Freedom only rings true when it rings for all.