Forum, June 11: Editorial Failed in Free Speech Mission

Sunday, June 10, 2018
Editorial Failed in Free Speech Mission

I applaud the position taken in your recent reprinting of the Los Angeles Times editorial (“Coerced Patriotism,” May 26) criticizing the new rules in the NFL that require players to stand and show respect during the playing of the national anthem, or else remain in the locker room if they will refuse to stand. If players or the teams do not comply, they will be fined.

Where the First Amendment applies, protests against patriotic rituals are protected from punishment. Such protests are very much in the spirit of the amendment: The kneeling protests during the anthem last season were usually both dignified and effective. The amendment also forbids forcing people to express views they do not have, like showing a respect you do not feel.

But the Valley News endorsement of these freedoms is oddly limited. I refer to your own editorial of May 18 (“Hot Button Issue”) regarding Dartmouth professor emeritus Ned Lebow’s “ladies’ lingerie” comment in a crowded elevator during a meeting of the International Studies Association. Merrimack College professor Simona Sharoni took offense at the comment and filed a complaint with the International Studies Association.

The ISA took her as seriously as the Valley News did, and demanded a written, unequivocal apology from Lebow to Sharoni, in which he would no longer criticize her complaint (he had already called it frivolous), nor defend his actions, but would have to say convincingly that he was sorry for what he had done to offend her. That is, he had not only give up his defense, but to lie.

Nobody with any love of his freedom and dignity would put up with this parody of a Stalinist show trial, and the Valley News ought not to have done so either. Instead, your editorial followed Sharoni in seeing the joke as a stupid, tone-deaf relic of the olden days of casual male sexual harassment, a judgment that I find overwrought and wrong.

It’s an old joke, yes, suitable only in elevators, but it’s still mildly amusing to most of my acquaintances (predominantly women — I live in a retirement community). Yes, it has sexual connotations, but a great many matters have sexual connotations in a species that reproduces sexually. Why would you regard as valid the expressed grievance about these matters from a woman who appears to be supersensitive to a certain set of issues? Do you want our expressive freedom to be hostage to the most intolerant person in any public space, some scold who might be offended by some hapless talker who says too much, perhaps, about the window display at Victoria’s Secret?

The complaint, and the ISA’s handling of it, do not constitute any cause worth your abandonment of what is arguably your most important mission: to defend free speech in public places: football stadiums, elevators and, especially, in academia.

Rogers Elliott


Separating Families Is Torture

The Trump administration’s policy of separating infants and children from their parents when they arrive to seek asylum in our country must be stopped. It is not only amazingly cruel, it is torture. It most assuredly is inflicting long-term mental health problems on these vulnerable families. It is totally unbelievable to me that this is now our country’s policy. It is also unbelievable to me that there are hundreds of people willing to inflict this kind of pain and suffering on others because it’s now part of their job description. How can they sleep at night?

People who undertake this long, dangerous journey, leaving behind family and friends, are feeling desperate for a safe and better life for themselves and their children.

My own great-grandparents left their beloved Ireland during the potato famine because they were starving. Most people don’t leave their homes unless there is a strong need to improve their life circumstances. Most of us non-native Americans probably share some version of this story.

Our president wants to dehumanize these people and call them “rapists and criminals” so that people can feel free to treat them badly.

I am fortunate to have my son, his wife, and my two beautiful grandsons (ages 2 and 4) living with me. I see how they need a hug when they scrape a knee or are just tired or hungry. Parental love is a necessary part of healthy development. The thought that young, vulnerable children are being torn away from their parents leaves me feeling sick, angry, outraged — it makes me cry. How is it possible that this is happening in our country?

Those who are upset by our country’s policy to separate children from their parents should call or write to their representatives and demand that this policy be stopped immediately. Demand that these children be reunited with their parents immediately. Please. Do something.

Emily Barrett Silver