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Cross-buring: intimidation, not speech

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 22, 2002

Re: Remind Justice Thomas that cross-burning is protected speech, by Robyn E. Blumner, Dec. 15.

I do not often agree with Justice Clarence Thomas, but this time I think he has it right.

Robyn Blumner deems cross-burning an expression of free speech, and, therefore, a law against cross-burning is a threat to all free speech. I find this logic spurious at best.

If Blumner would review past news films or tapes where these cross-burnings are depicted, she might change her opinion. It is a frightening thing to behold; the sheer lunacy of it is intimidating. Of course, it is meant to be frightening and intimidating. It was intended to frighten African-Americans and anyone else who did not hold segregationist beliefs into refraining from exercising free speech such as marching, picketing or other forms of free expression. Also, it was intended as a threatening gesture to keep African-Americans from registering to vote. I think this is where the government has the right to draw the line.

When the sole purpose of a group or individual's actions is to intimidate other people from freely expressing their views or exercising their lawful rights, the government has a right to control those actions and make them illegal.

The sole purpose of cross-burning is to intimidate. It is not free speech as intended by the Founding Fathers. I think they would be mortified to find someone using their concept of free speech to defend such a deplorable act.
-- Thomas R. Minyard, Palm Harbor

Exceptions must be made

Re: Remind Justice Thomas that cross-burning is protected speech.

Robyn Blumner tells us for the umpteenth time that speech, no matter how reprehensible, enjoys First Amendment protection and that cross-burning "... is really no different than any other form of hate speech."

Not so, says U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, also a same-day New York Times editorial: The First Amendment is not absolute, it does not protect "a message of racial intimidation and a clear threat of violence," and concludes that the Virginia law banning cross-burning should be upheld.

I think that if Blumner had lived (as many of us have) during the time of cross-burnings -- a time of untold terror, destruction of property and, in many cases, the killing of people for no reason other than skin color -- she might be less doctrinaire about First Amendment protection of hate speech and more aware that exceptions have been and must continue to be made for people's protection.

With this opinion, which should receive the unanimous agreement of his colleagues on the court, Justice Thomas will have achieved an important victory in the American struggle for human rights -- and justified an otherwise undistinguished record of performance on the court.
-- Joseph H. Francis, St. Petersburg

Not all speech is protected

Re: Remind Justice Thomas that cross-burning is protected speech.

I'm not even sure quite how to respond to Robyn Blumner's column. As a black man who is old enough to remember (from firsthand experience) the struggles of the civil rights movement, I am dumbstruck that anyone would give any quarter whatsoever to any speech that advocates hate (of any race of people anywhere). Beyond that, I find myself in the somewhat awkward position of defending a Supreme Court Justice with whom I have disagreed with since his appointment.

The one thing that you should keep in mind is that there really isn't a "constitutional guarantee of free speech." The Supreme Court has ruled on numerous occasions that not all speech is protected (see screaming "Fire!" in a crowded theater). Truth be known, there is no government on the planet, not even the United States, that protects all speech. Do klansman have the right to burn crosses in the privacy of their own twisted little environments? By all means. Do they have the right to use such symbols to incite one group of people to cause harm to another? Absolutely not! It is for this reason that the Supreme Court will uphold the Virginia law.
-- Carl Thompson, Tampa

An eye-opener

Re: Remind Justice Thomas that cross-burning is protected speech.

Robyn Blumner's article about Clarence Thomas and cross-burning was an eye-opener for me. Her facts were so clear and stated so thoughtfully, it really made me think about our First Amendment and how it is supposed to protect us all, no matter how opposed we may feel to another's opinion.

It reminded me of the disgraceful actions in Florida when a few people were arrested for holding up signs stating their opinion.

The administration is undoing what took years of clear thinking and hard work to achieve and put into practice. And we were doing much better!
-- Jeanne L. Ferriter, St. Petersburg

Look at black achievers

Re: Why does the black gap persist? by Felicia R. Lee, Dec. 15.

I can't match the academic achievements of anthropology professor John U. Ogbu, but I do have a master's degree and I have lived long enough and seen enough to know that the article is incomplete.

None of the people mentioned seem to know, or care about the other side of the issue: the ones who do rise above their cultural expectations, without the use of sports or entertainment, like me. Where is their story?

Black people are as homogeneous as any group in America. Unfortunately, we had to start at the sub-basement level. Many of our parents simply don't insist that their children do well in school. Nor do they work closely with the teachers. I don't remember my mother ever going to a PTA meeting, and I was an honor student.

I would like to see a survey of the overachieving blacks and what they have to say about their progress. I think you will find that most of them did it in spite of their cultural tendencies. Also, I think it would inspire more youngsters to strive to be successful, instead of succumbing to the persistent pounding of their environment to conform.
-- Howard Reeves, St. Petersburg

Health care not a right

Re: Health care is a big profit business, Dec. 15.

Martin Dyckman falls into the same flawed-thinking trap that most people who espouse socialist ideals do: that health care is somehow not a true business but a right or entitlement to be underwritten by the public at large.

Health care, like any other enterprise, is a system of products and services provided by educated and licensed individuals. Compare this to buying a car or clothes: both are necessities and are supplied by stores and are available to those who are able to pay. But health care is expensive, you say. So are clothes and cars. Yet there is no subsidizing entity such as private insurance or the government ready to pick up the tab for you. Automobile insurance, unlike health insurance, is there only when a catastrophic vehicular event occurs, not to take care of the mundane routine repairs. Why do we to expect this level of service from health insurance?

Health care is not a right. You have no more right to that particular set of products and services than you do to any other.

What happens when people believe that they can get something for nothing? Demand goes up, resources become strained, and the price goes up.

Having a universal payer also assumes another flawed premise: Everyone is in need of health care at any one given point in time. There are thousands of us who never set foot in a doctor's office, hospital, walk-in clinic or other venue, but Dyckman would have your tax dollars, too, in order to pay for something you don't use. Would you accept the check at a restaurant for something you didn't order. Hardly.

Article I, Section VIII of the Constitution does not enumerate health care as a valid point of regulation by Congress. Government payment for health care does not protect my property from theft; does not protect my person from harm; doesn't secure my rights under the Constitution; nor does it protect me from future terrorist attacks. Let the government pay only for its legally appointed obligations.
-- Joe Haynes, Seminole

It's laughable

These are serious times and it is rare to get a good laugh about anything. But the Dec. 15 letter, saying "The Republican Party is the party of ideas that works for all people . . ." sure gave me one. This is the party of tax breaks for the rich and corporations moving addresses offshore, of destroying the environment by voiding existing laws, ignoring global warming and doing nothing about the lack of medical coverage for millions.
-- A. William Clark, Homosassa

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