For Whom the Censor Trolls

Dr. Malcolm Cross

It was recently reported that posted advertisements for a Tarleton production of The Vagina Monologues were taken down.  Check out the story here:  This prompts a column which may be repetitious, given my past writings on freedom of speech, but which, I think, is nonetheless necessary.

I’ve never seen a production of The Vagina Monologues and hence have no thoughts on its content, other than that some have the right to perform it, and others have the right to view it.  And herein lies the problem:  The right to perform and the right to view were significantly endangered by those who stole the advertisements.

This should be of concern to anyone who wants to say or see or listen to anything.  After all, each time we tolerate the censorship, by whatever means, of a message, of whatever content, we are strengthening the forces of those who would determine what we can say, see, listen to, or think, and weakening our own rights to say, see, listen to, and think.  

This is not to say that everyone should have the right to say whatever he wants.  There is no right to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater, unless, of course, there actually is one.  We rightly punish libel and slander, and criminalize child pornography, since this filth can’t be produced without real harm to real children.  But with these obvious exceptions, we should be able to say and see and listen to and think about whatever we choose, at least as long as doing so does not endanger the rights of others.  

I first made this point when, on the city council, I engaged in a debate about what to do should the Ku Klux Klan come to Stephenville and want to use the facilities at the city park for a picnic.  Another council member said we should ban the Klan, but I argued that the city had no right to do so as long as it obeyed all laws and rules.  For my defense of the Klan I was accused of being associated with it.  But in a letter to the editor of the Stephenville Empire Tribune, I argued that if we ban the KKK today, tomorrow we can ban the NAACP, and the day after we can ban the Committee to Vote Me off the Council.  By the way, when the KKK really did come to town, my wife and I helped the then-active chapter of the NAACP organize a counter-protest.  And I also argued, in a debate before a conservative Republican club, that members of the Tarleton community had a right to perform and view Corpus Christi, a play about a gay Jesus, with the understanding that those who were offended by it (myself included), had a perfect right to boycott it, just as we had a perfect right to boycott The Vagina Monologues and whatever else we choose.  

So, those who would suppress the rights of others should remember the famous poem by Martin Niemoller, German submarine commander and supporter of Hitler, who became a Lutheran priest and one of Hitler’s most eloquent critics, as well as a concentration camp prisoner:

He wrote, in one version of his poem:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a socialist. 

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a trade unionist. 

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a Jew. 

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me. 

If we allow some to silence others, who’ll be left to speak for us when we need it most?

In other words, never send to know for whom the censor trolls; he trolls for thee.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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