Monday, May 18, 2009

I don't know how limiting the right to speak helps anyone.

It's commencement season again, and as I mentioned, I was in Boston on Friday for Simmons College's graduation. Simmons alumna Gwen Ifill was the speaker, and did a terrific job.

Among other things, she talked about her own commencement speaker, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, who was the first African-American woman to run for President. In her day, many dismissed Congresswoman Chisholm as a gadfly and a troublemaker, a marginal figure -- but without her, Gwen Ifill noted, Barbara Jordan would not have made her historic speech at the 1976 Democratic Convention, and Hillary Clinton might not have been such a strong Presidential candidate in 2008.

Present becomes past, and the past changes as our perception of it changes. We argue about the importance of historical events and great works of literature and oratory because their current meaning for us is always changing.

How, then, is anyone served by limiting speech in any public forum? I ask this in light of the protests against President Barack Obama's speech at Notre Dame yesterday, which many opposed because of his stances in favor of embryonic stem-cell research and in opposition to laws restricting abortion. Mary Ann Glendon declined the University's Laetare medal in protest of Notre Dame's invitation to President Obama, and some students and parents stayed away.

When I was at Georgetown, the Young Americans for Freedom invited Roberto D'Aubuisson to speak. Even in retrospect, I'm shocked by this. Roberto D'Aubuisson was widely acknowledged to be the man responsible for the 1980 assassination of Archbishop
Oscar Romero
; in 1984, when D'Aubuisson came to Georgetown, the blood on his hands was still practically fresh.

But D'Aubuisson spoke at Georgetown, while students protested outside, and that's how it's supposed to be. No one should forget that man's name; no one should forget his crime. He should have been in jail, rather than being feted as a champion of democracy, but in any case, he had a right to speak.

President Obama took the opportunity yesterday to express views on abortion that many Americans share: it's a tragedy for everyone involved, and what we need to do is reduce the perceived need for it. No one has an abortion because she wants to. Women have abortions because they feel compelled to. That is why I, despite my own belief that abortion is homicide, don't want to live in a society that enforces laws against it -- and also why I object to the term "pro-choice," because I see abortion as the last choice, the act women come to when they feel they've run out of choices.

I'm glad President Obama spoke at Notre Dame yesterday. I'm glad people showed up to protest, though I think much of that protest was misguided.

John Cardinal Newman, who believed in argument and the value of public discourse, once said, "To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often." I don't know about you, but I'm still changing...

4 comments:

Ed Lamb said...

Hear, hear! Except don't expect me to listen to ideas with which I disagree.

Larry said...

A few random thoughts without answers:

We suppress conversations we don't want to hear while ranting against ideas contrary to our own.

Our culture searches for thing to fear. The sale of guns and ammunition are at an all time high. We are they afraid of ___?

We need to hate. In the 60s, it was the blacks. The 70s, women who burned their bras. And now gays and lesbians.

AnswerGirl said...

Generally, I do not allow anonymous comments on this blog. My name's on this, and yours should be, as well.

That said, you've missed my point. The protesters at Notre Dame had every right to object to President Obama's opinions, beliefs, decisions. They were wasting their time in protesting the University's invitation that he speak. How do you formulate a cogent argument against your opponents until you know what they have to say?

At Georgetown, we were protesting Roberto D'Aubuisson's beliefs in genocide as a political tactic, not the fact that he'd been invited to speak. Do you genuinely not understand the difference between an internationally-recognized war criminal and a man who wants to discuss abortion in terms of justifiable homicide?

AnswerGirl said...

It's simply courtesy, and since you didn't extend that to me when I asked for it, I'm deleting your comments.

Again, you missed my point, which was that I wasn't saying -- and I didn't say -- that D'Aubuisson shouldn't have spoken at Georgetown. I said that his actions and beliefs and statements were repugnant to me.

Those who protested President Obama at Notre Dame on Sunday had every right to protest his statements, actions and beliefs. They were foolish, misguided and wrong to protest the fact of his appearance.

Don't comment again unless you sign your posts, because I will delete those comments.