As evidenced by his LA Times op-ed from Friday, Maher is still miffed about his run-in with the thought police. The news that America's youth aren't sympathetic isn't helping his mood. (See: "First Amendment no big deal, students say"). In his column, Maher comes out swinging at the climate of fear and intolerance that has replaced openness and rational debate in America.
"We're seeing the beginnings of the first post-9/11 generation -- the kids who first became aware of the news under an "Americans need to watch what they say" administration, the kids who've been told that dissent is un-American and therefore justifiably punished by a fine, imprisonment -- or the loss of your show on ABC."
Maher raises an excellent point. Just think of the controversies that have been in the news of late. Harvard's Larry Summers drew an astounding amount of criticism for speculating on why women may be less successful than men in science and math. You can disagree with his reasoning and conclusions all you like, but it is unfair to do what his his critics have done and slam him as an anti-feminist bigot. A Washington Post editorial correctly postulated that any disciplinary action taken against Summers would have a "chilling effect on free inquiry".
Controversies surrounding negative reaction to comments made by Eason Jordan have lost the CNN chief his job and put Professor Ward Churchill in danger of losing his. While I disagree vehemently with the ideas expressed by both, I realize that they have the same right as I do to call it like they see it. Regarding Churchill, I find his comments loathsome, insensitive, offensive, and barbaric. But he has the right to make those statements, and have the American public completely reject his arguments. That's what the First Amendment is there for, to be used by all.
Thus it's troubling to learn that more than one in three students think First Amendment protections go "too far". This news has scared me more than Loony Kim's nukes, cell phone viruses, and Bill Cosby's double standards ever could. One half of students believe newspapers should need government approval to publish their stories. I expect those type of numbers from a poll of the Politburo, not America's Gen X!
Small wonder then that Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) has pushed for a law requiring schools to teach about the Constitution on September 17, the anniversary of the document's signing. Although I disapprove of Sen. Byrd's law because it could open the door to all kinds of federal curriculum mandates by any legislator with a pet cause, there is no question that the problem Byrd was trying to address needs to be solved. Frankly put, kids today don't know nearly enough about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, etc. Schools need to integrate more information about civil right and liberties, personal responsibility, and good citizenship into their curriculums. Else we risk creating a generation of Americans who are severely out of touch with the nature of what our country represents.
It may come as a surprise to many grade-schoolers that freedom isn't just something we're trying to spread in the Middle East. Its roots are here at home, where it is more important than ever before that we are aware of our rights and responsibilities as citizens. A significant part of America's greatness lies in its status as a safe haven for ideas, regardless of how controversial they may be. Our freedom is dependent on our ability to be able to express ourselves without fear of recrimination. And yes, this includes the right to be "politically incorrect". We should never be afraid of free speech, because by its very essence, it can never be anti-American.