Wednesday, November 14, 2007

JMO - When free speech isn't

I read an article today about the recent win by the American bridge team at the world bridge championship in Shanghai, China. During the dinner ceremony one of the team members held up a small sign which read, "We did not vote for Bush." That's it, nothing outragous or political, just a simple statement about who they voted for in the recent presidential elections. Well, it created a firestorm of e-mails in opposition to the team members.

Three of the members later issued statements expressing regret if the statement offended anyone. And the US Bridge Federation (USBF) has disciplined them for expressing inappropriate speech which included sanctions and community service in support of bridge activities. While many members and others have expressed support for the team members, many have expressed outrage.

Now I don't know about the USBF but I don't see this as political except whom they voted for. They didn't express anything against Bush, the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, or Bush's record as President. Simpy said they didn't vote for him. And while many member sported buttons against Bush or the war, they weren't on the winners podium to be seen. And the team members didn't say anything other than the sign.

My question to the USBF is this. If the sign had be pro-Bush or pro-war, or anti-terrorists/terrorism, and so on, would you still have sanctioned them? Or is, as someone suggested, that Bush has turned patriotism into only free speech in favor or or for the President, and anything different is unpatriotic or anti-American? And so it also raises a question.

If the USBF didn't have any rules against what they did, how can they impose disciplinary actions against the retroactively and without the rule to back it? Even if they are a non-profit organization and members sign an agreement with their membership, if there aren't rules on conduct or political statements, where is the justice and fairness?

And what happened to free speech? While they were in China, the team members aren't Chinese citizens. They're Americans. We're all Americans and we're all entitled to free speech. It's not against the law to express our opinions. And while it's not generally prudent to do so at ceremonial events, it's not against the law.

These women didn't do anything wrong, and the USBF should apologize to them for the treatment they got from you and the membership who seemed offended. America is about dissent and free speech, or don't you understand that? It's our right and our right of free speech, not just what you like, but also what may offend you.

Remember, they won! Celebrate that. Americans win the Venice Cup of the World Bridge Championship. What's not to like about that?

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