Colorado Editorials

The Colorado Springs Gazette: Use free speech with self restraint

Author: The Colorado Springs Gazette Editorial Board - May 31, 2018 - Updated: May 31, 2018

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In this March 23, 2018, file photo, Roseanne Barr arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of “Roseanne” on Friday in Burbank, Calif. Barr has apologized for suggesting that former White House adviser Valerie Jarrett is a product of the Muslim Brotherhood and the “Planet of the Apes.” Barr on Tuesday, May 29, tweeted that she was sorry to Jarrett “for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks.” Jarrett, who is African-American, advised Barack and Michelle Obama. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

Free speech is like a gun. It can be used for good or bad, as seen in two recent abuses of the First Amendment.

Civilized Americans have worked long and hard toward a goal of eradicating racism. That’s why Roseanne Barr’s big break — her second chance at a lucrative, late-in-life career — ended hours after her racist tweet compared a black woman to an ape.

She has a right to say such things, but she has no right to acceptance. Repulsive messaging comes at a cost.

Free speech means we may say or write almost anything offensive without getting fined, imprisoned, or otherwise punished by government authorities. The First Amendment restrains the power of government; not the power of ABC Entertainment or other private companies.

Anyone who doesn’t get this concept should call the boss an “ape,” assert the First Amendment, and see how things work out.

Limitation on government authority protects us from tyranny. It protects us from a Republican president punishing Democratic messages, or a Democratic president from silencing Republicans. It prevents government from shutting down a Twitter user who criticizes state officials and bureaucracies.

We should never construe our freedom from authority as license to communicate hatred or violence without consequence. All rights must be exercised within a context of self-restraint.

Which brings us to a lower profile abuse of free speech, getting buried in coverage of Roseanne.

The videogame company Valve Corp. plans to release the game “Active Shooter” June 6. Just as the First Amendment protects extreme content in newspapers, porn flicks, or Twitter feeds, it allows video producers to create violent and vulgar images offensive to civilized society.

Each Active Shooter gamer will have the choice to act as a SWAT officer trying to stop a school shooting in progress. Or, each participant has the option of playing the gunman shooting up a school. The game awards points for killing animated students running through the halls.

“It’s disgusting that Valve Corp. is trying to profit from the glamorization of tragedies affecting our schools across the country,” said Ryan Petty, father of slain 14-year-old Alaina, in a Facebook post. “Keeping our kids safe is a real issue affecting our communities and is in no way a ‘game.'”

Michael Casserly, the chief executive of Council of the Great City Schools, is among a growing chorus of outraged parents and education professionals denouncing Active Shooter. It “violates every sense of decency a civilized nation should hold dear,” Casserly said, as quoted Tuesday in the Washington Post.

Valve Corp. CEO Gabe Newell and COO Scott Lynch should publicly apologize for this game and refrain from selling it. Not because they must. Because they should. It is the right thing to do.

The First Amendment does not allow messages that directly incite violence or harm. That’s why we aren’t protected in yelling “fire” in a crowd, if we know there is no fire.

Though people often link mass shootings to violent video games, research does not support the hypothesis. The Post details a Villanova University professor’s study that found school shooters have been less interested in violent games than typical students who don’t shoot up schools.

“Active Shooter” is probably legal. So is a racist tweet. Each “violates every sense of decency a civilized nation should hold dear.” Each abuses free speech. The culture should tolerate neither.

The Colorado Springs Gazette Editorial Board