SDN editorial was not ‘appropriate’
RE: What is appropriate? (SDN editorial, March 3)I suppose the Summit Daily News’ spurious defense of Cherry Creek teacher Jay Bennish on the grounds of free speech was inevitable, but it was nonetheless disappointing. Those who would use the First Amendment as a protection for the sort of intellectual thuggery that Mr. Bennish practices should keep several things in mind. First, a simple thought experiment shows the speciousness of the free speech argument: If I was a high school history teacher, would the Summit Daily News defend my right to deny the Holocaust in my class? To argue repeatedly that the enslavement of blacks improved them? To insist that history shows that the only good Arab is a dead Arab? I would certainly hope not, although the paper’s current position creates some doubt. The fact is that free speech in this country has never been absolute; rather, it has always been balanced with a sense of the citizen’s responsibility for judicious use. Even founding father John Adams worried about the dangers of freedom divorced from responsibility. In his words: “… democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.” Aside from that, probably the best comment on the topic was Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson’s 1949 cautionary observation that “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.” Second, the question of free speech is a canard in this case. Mr. Bennish is free to say whatever he wishes on his own time and off-campus; no one argues that he is not. He is, however, employed by the Cherry Creek School District to teach geography and this is paid and directed speech. His tirades – interviews with students indicate that this was not an isolated incident – might have had some marginal relevance to a political science or history class, but they are clearly out of bounds for the material which he is supposed to be imparting. This is a beach of contract, and the Cherry Creek School District is perfectly within its rights to investigate him for it. Third, Mr. Bennish was not, as he and some of his supporters have suggested, trying to create a species of discussion or dialogue. His denunciation of America, its president, history and economic structure (this is a geography class, remember) was a 20-odd minute rant, characterized by the most vituperative of tone.*Rare is the high school student who would venture an opposing opinion in that corrosive atmosphere – a situation directly at odds with the stated policy of the school district, again justifying investigation and probably sanction. In short, a disappointing and misguided stance by the Summit Daily News. There are larger and yes, more “appropriate” targets for a First Amendment defense than Cherry Creek’s watered-down Ward Churchill. I’m confident your readers will be able to identify a few.Note from the author: Listen to Bennish’s talk to the class at http://www.850koa.com.
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