'Anti-free speech rally at the courthouse today! All speakers welcome!' (And an un-Merry Christmas to you, too.)
It's that time of year again: which is to say, the time when non-Christians and total nonbelievers transform from their usually passive selves to vocal and, sometimes, litigious opponents of all things Christmas. We're seeing this here in eastern PA. The city of Philadelphia, in the personage of mayor Michael Nutter, initially decided to rename its festive and traditional "Christmas Village" display, outside City Hall, "Holiday Village"—and then reversed itself within 48 hours. (The breakneck, back-and-forth mood swings in this drama perfectly capture the schizoid nature of society's feelings on the matter.) Also, not far from Philly, Chester County has decided to bar atheists from putting up their own, cheeky "tree of knowledge"—which touts a secular world-view and includes recommended reading—alongside the official tree, the expected nativity scenes and the like outside the county courthouse. Closer to home, there have been minor skirmishes of a similar nature in Allentown and Bethlehem (and could there possibly be a more ironic venue for such a skirmish than a town called Bethlehem?).
This is another one of those imbroglios where I'm not at all sure how I feel. By now you know my general thinking on free speech, and my melancholia over the progressive loss of same throughout America. But does "free speech" imply that a person ought be allowed to blithely crap all over any and every occasion that's important and/or meaningful to his or her neighbors? Does it mean that a minority of one can, if he or she so chooses, suck all the joy out of something for a vast majority of hundreds or thousands or millions? As you're waiting with your kids or grandkids to see Santa, do you want to also see a man next to the line holding the following sign?:
MOMMY AND DADDY ARE LYING TO YOU. THERE IS NO SANTA. THAT'S JUST A MAN IN A FAT SUIT AND A FAKE BEARD.*And if the Christmas motif mucks things up, let me ask the question a different way: If you were spending your life savings to create a wonderful wedding for your daughter, would you want some overzealous, sign-bearing advocate for gay marriage to camp outside your event, insist on insinuating himself into the background of all the photos you hoped to take in that pretty park near the church, etc.? Is that a legitimate price we pay as a society for having free speech?
Once again, those are not rhetoricals. I'm honestly askin'.
* As a practical matter, anyone carrying such a sign would almost surely be run out by mall security, and their right to do so would be upheld. But that's not the point. How do we feel about this?