When the exercise of a Constitutional right is met with unopposed opposition, the right itself is in danger. For instance, if in writing this post I have to fear a backlash from those who disagree, and if that backlash includes loss of my job, fines, or other institutional sanctions, my right regarding Freedom of the Press is being threatened. That’s not to say that I should not be held accountable for what I “say”, but rather, the opposition to what I say should not be allowed to be institutionalized. If my manager doesn’t like it, that’s his prerogative to disagree. But for him to sanction me with fines, unpaid time off, etc., is wrong. Those actions abridge my right to free speech and threaten the very fabric of our rights.
Fortunately, no such thing has happened to me. Yet!
The story that brings this point to mind is that of Ozzie Guillen, Manager for the Florida Marlins baseball team, who said he loves and respects Fidel Castro. From CNN.com:
“The reaction by the team was swift — a five-game suspension. Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig supported the move. “Mr. Guillen’s remarks, which were offensive to an important part of the Miami community and others throughout the world, have no place in our game,” he said Tuesday.”
I have a problem with that. Guillen is entitled to his opinion and others are entitled to disagree. But for the Commissioner to support suspending him for the comments is inappropriate. Nevermind the fact that Guillen later apologized—he has the right to realize he offended people and to apologize. The suspension still stands.
What the Marlins and the Cuban-American protesters outside the stadium are saying is this: “We believe in the Constitutional right to Free Speech as long as you say what pleases us to hear.” I’m not alone in my view. Also from CNN.com:
“Frank Ramirez, a longtime fan, said that Miami “is the last place you want to say something like that.” Still, he drew a distinction between the ball club suspending Guillen for what he said, rather than acting in response to fan outcries. To suspend Guillen for the content of what he said — no matter how wrongheaded — comes across as a violation of his right to free speech, Ramirez said.”
What they are in fact saying is that they would choose to muzzle those who disagree with their view of Fidel Castro—just as Fidel Castro has done in Cuba since his rise to power over 50 years ago. The only difference is that in Cuba, Fidel would have you killed—not merely suspended for a few games.
The consequence of Free Speech that is judged as in this case is the end to Free Speech.