Censorship Again and Again?
(Printed in The Daily Review on 10/8/96.)
Don Feder was impressed by Robert Bork's book, "Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and the American Decline," and devoted his Sept. 21 column (Review) to it. In 1987, a Senate Judiciary Committee disapproved Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court declaring that, "Judge Bork's narrow definition of liberty sets him apart from the tradition and history from which this nation was conceived. . . ." Feder apparently shares that same narrow definition.
Referring to Bork, Feder wrote, "It's encouraging to learn that I'm not the only conservative in favor of censorship judiciously applied." Feder and Bork both concede that the First Amendment protects the concept of freedom of ideas, and both are more than willing to censor anything that falls outside their definition of a valid idea. Bork is appalled that the "(Supreme) Court reads the speech clause as a protection of self-expression, personal autonomy, or individual gratification." Bork also refers to the "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" phrase in the Declaration of Independence as "rhetorical flourishes." Bork's solution: "Religion must be recaptured church by church, education university by university and school board by school board."
In "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark," Carl Sagan writes that all ideas and views are "protected, and properly so, under the Bill of Rights, even if those protected would abolish the Bill of Rights if they got a chance." Sagan quotes John Stuart Mill who argued in "On Liberty" that "silencing an opinion is 'a peculiar evil'. If the opinion is right, we are robbed of the 'opportunity of exchanging error for truth'; and if it's wrong, we are deprived of a deeper understanding of the truth in 'its collision with error.'" He also quotes Jefferson: "If a nation expects to be both ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be," and in a letter to Madison, Jefferson wrote, "A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both, and deserve neither."
Sagan continues, "The Bill of Rights decoupled religion from the state, in part because so many religions were steeped in an absolutist frame of mind -- each convinced that it alone had a monopoly on the truth and therefore eager for the state to impose this truth on others."
Feder is content to be in the company of Bork and the Christian Coalition, and they would love nothing better than to destroy the Bill of Rights, even though the right to profess their ideas is granted by that which they propose to destroy. Their scheme of "censorship judiciously applied" has one major problem -- who decides? Who among us has the wisdom to determine exactly what "judiciously" means? I readily admit that I don't.
As I have written in the past about censorship, parents are responsible for their minor children; adults can decide for themselves. The ideas of Feder, Bork, and the Christian Coalition have yet to convince me otherwise.
John L. Ferri