Apparently the executives at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MUNI) feel that some ideas are so controversial they must be censored.
To do otherwise would violate their commitment to Political Correctness.
Recently, a new ad began appearing on a number of MUNI buses: ”In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat jihad.”
The ads were purchased by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a conservative, pro-Israel group.
Predictably, the ads have sparked controversy–not everyone agrees with their message. Which is entirely the right of those who support Arab causes or simply do not support Israel.
But MUNI isn’t content to accept that there can be two sides to every argument.
What’s important to this agency’s executives is that no one’s feelings be offended in any way.
“[San Francisco] has a long history of tolerance for all, and while we honor a person’s right to self-expression, there are times when we must say ‘enough,’” said Tom Nolan, chairman of MUNI’s Board of Directors.
“The recent ad has no value in facilitating constructive dialogue or advancing the cause of peace and justice.
“While this ad is protected under the First Amendment, our ad policy and our contractual obligations, we condemn the use of any language that belittles, demeans or disparages others. Going forward, we will review our policies with regards to ads on the Muni system.”
And to show how truly repentant they are, MUNI’s executives have offered to donate all the proceeds from the ad campaign to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission.
MUNI hadn’t wanted to run the ads. But its executives felt they had no thoice.
On July 20, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority violated the First Amendment rights of a pro-Israel group by rejecting an ad the group wanted to place on city buses.
If MUNI had rejected the ads, there was the very real chance that the American Freedom Defense Initiative would file a similar–and likely successful–lawsuit against the cash-strapped transportation agency.
What’s lost in all this is the whole idea of the free exchange of ideas, even those that are controversial.
The answer to the pro-Israel ads should not be a blanket of censorship. On the contrary: Those who disagree with their message should be free to run their own counter-ads.
The truth is that nearly everyone has the desire to play censor in some instance.
- Feminist groups want to censor ads, books, movies, TV shows and comedy skits they feel “demean women.”
- Blacks want to censor materials they believe are racist–including such classics of American literature as Huckleberry Finn.
- In the early 1970s, Italians objected to the use of “Mafia” and “Cosa Nostra” in Justice Department press releases. The producers of “The Godfather” agreed to delete such terms from the movie–after protests by no less than members of the Joseph Columbo Mafia family.
- Criticism of Israel–no matter how valid it might be–is viewed by many Jews as evidence of anti-Semitism.
- Meanwhile, members of Islamic organizations–including terrorist ones–complain about “anti-Muslim” statements carried in the media.
- Hispanics–especially Cubans–bristled at the making of “Scarface,” for its portrayal of rampant drug-dealing in Miami and Central America.
- Fascists believe that any criticism of their leaders–such as Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Rush Limbaugh–should be censored.
- Those who believe in Communism utterly reject any criticism of its various leaders–such as Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev.
The First Amendment wasn’t created to defend the publication of popular ideas. It was enshrined in the Bill of Rights–the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution–to showcase the importance. of giving unpopular views a chance to be heard.
Those who embrace censorship should closely examine its effects on societies that practice it.
- During the centuries of the “Holy Inquisition,” anyone who openly declared that the Earth revolved around the sun risked death at the stake. (The Catholic Church claimed that Earth–and thus Man–stood at the center of the universe.)
- Throughout the 74 years of the Soviet Union, crime statistics weren’t published–because, officially, there couldn’t be crime in the “workers’ paradise.”
- In Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, people have been condemned to death for “blasphemy,” which can mean virtually whatever the accuser wants it to mean.
For a democratic society, the only acceptable response to attempted censorship is that offered by President John F. Kennedy:
“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”