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Discourse over Obama float chips away at the right of free speech PDF Print E-mail

By Russ Pankonin, The Imperial Republican

A Norfolk, Neb., man probably never dreamed his float in the community’s 4th of July parade would spark the kind of controversy it has.
The float on the flatbed of Dale Remmich’s pickup depicted a zombie-like figure standing over a walker outside an outhouse labeled the “Obama Presidential Library.”
When the float went through the parade, many thought it was funny and it drew laughs along the parade route—political satire, if you will. But then came the cries of racism and disrespect.
As one would expect, the Nebraska Democratic Party called the float one of the “worst shows of racism and disrespect for the office of the presidency that Nebraska has ever seen.”
In the following days, the public opinion columns in the Lincoln Journal Star and the Omaha World-Herald were filled with letters, mostly condemning the float and it’s connotation.
The Journal Star also came out with its own editorial blasting the float and what they perceived the float represented.
The Department of Justice even sent a representative from its Community Relations Service to Norfolk to investigate the float that appeared to be critical of President Obama.
In reviewing pictures of the float that appeared in newspapers and online, never did I see anything that labeled the zombie-like figure as President Obama. People just assumed the figure was intended to be Obama. We all know what happens when people assume things!!!
This controversy points to a much bigger problem that we suffer as a society—how dare we speak our minds for the fear of offending someone or hurting their feelings.
I was visiting with a good friend recently and I touched on a subject in which we were on polar opposites. I wasn’t going to change his mind on the subject and he wasn’t going to change mine. Did we part as friends? Absolutely!!!
In the end, we agreed to disagree, which led us to the discussion of society’s political correctness. We asked each other, “What ever happened to being able to disagree with someone without it harming a friendship or creating an enemy?”
That brings us back to the float at Norfolk. Regardless of whether the man was making a statement about President Obama or not, the Constitution of this United States gives him the right to do so.
Perhaps we all need a refresher history lesson on just what the First Amendment to the Constitution protects:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
As a journalist who endeavors to protect free speech, a free press and the First Amendment as a whole, I see all of the discourse over this man’s float as nothing more than an attack on one’s freedoms of expression.
We must never let political correctness trump our rights of expression.
These freedoms can never be taken for granted. We must remain vigilant of these rights so that controversies such as this are not allowed to chip away at the innate freedoms granted us by this country’s great founders!