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Tue, Aug. 20

Free speech can't tolerate compromise

As the 230th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence approaches, consider the bipartisan messing with free speech.

On one hand, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal reported on a government program to track the finances of groups suspected of bankrolling terrorism.

On the other, another effort in Congress would amend the U.S. Constitution to forbid desecration of the American flag.

In both cases, people who demand free expression for themselves would deny it to those who disagree with them.

The Daily Courier considers flag desecration despicable. In the free marketplace of ideas, flag burners already get what they deserve either through public censure or existing laws. The minute we exempt one form of expression from First Amendment protection ­ especially to pander to patriotic votes ­ we start down a slippery slope.

The Times and the Journal are a more blatant example of First Amendment two-stepping. If they applied their current idea of the public's right to know in 1944, the Japanese and Germans would have read about the nuclear bombs Fatman and Little Boy on their front pages before the U.S. dropped them. Yet when General Motors answered a Times columnist's hit piece, the editorial page editor quibbled about letter length and said the use of the word "rubbish" to describe the acerbic column was beneath the tone of the newspaper.

The First Amendment is not easy to live up to; it calls for responsibility and integrity.

Founding Father John Adams may have offered the best analysis:

"The Constitution of the United States was designed for a moral and religious people and is inadequate for the government of any other kind."

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