Please forgive the fact that I’m once again using television as my venue for this week’s topic, but until I can come up with some ideas to work with, I have to go on inspiration.

Again, I was watching “Boston Public” tonight and I was struck by the show’s theme. It was a theme that I have taken very seriously over the last two years, and it provided me with some new insight into the topic. One thing that this show is very good at is addressing current affairs and real-life situations, and this week’s topic was anti-Americanism. It turns out that one of the school’s Social Studies classes was holding a mock U.N. summit and discussing current events—namely, the United States’ war with Iraq.

One of the students, who was at the time representing the country of Canada, expressed his distate with the U.S.’s policies regarding the war, and of its suspicious beginnings. The student claimed that the war on terror was inspired by the events of September 11th, which Iraq had nothing to do with, which is true, as far as any of us knows. He exclaimed that the real reason for the war had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction and instead had more to do with the fact that the U.S. couldn’t find Osama bin Laden and instead focused on the leader that it could go after—Saddam.

A couple of the other students—ironically, those representing the United States and Germany—felt that the student agreed with his own argument a little too much, and a fight broke out. After the teacher insisted that she would have order in her classroom and the two students accepted this, they cornered the student in a bathroom and beat him until he lay in a pool of blood on the floor.

What came next was a barrage of rhetoric and argument the likes of which I have never personally seen in a classroom or a school, although I can only wish that I had seen something of its like while I was in high school. The school district insisted that the “inflammatory” debate be toned down or removed from the classroom, and the parents of the district agreed with its decision. The teacher involved felt that there was no way she could teach if she was forced to censor herself and her students’ right to political free speech—which, by the way, is one of the few rights that is absolutely granted to a student in a high school—and I must say that I completely agree with her.

Too many people in this country have a problem with those who practice their own brand of Free Speech. I suppose that it’s the nature of a group mentality: if you disagree with the majority’s opinion, you are ostracized for it. I saw it when I was in school—those who dressed differently or expressed alternative points of view were deemed as nerds or freaks—and I see it today in the general public’s opinion of those who go against the grain. As was mentioned in the show, people lose their jobs over the fact that they express so-called anti-American opinions. Commentator and talk-show host Bill Maher immediately springs to mind, when he was forced out of his ABC show, ironically called “Politically Incorrect,” for saying that no matter how you sliced it, staying in the plane while it goes into the side of a building is courageous, and that lobbing bombs from afar has no courage in it whatsoever.

What has this country come to? Where do we get the idea that some ideas are better than others? At what point does it become okay to force a majority opinion on others simply for the reason that it is the majority opinion? This country was founded specifically on the grounds that we should be—and are—free to express ourselves despite the fact that others may disagree with that opinion. We feel that rights are some kind of thing granted to us because of who and what we are, but we fail to see the fact that with those rights come responsibilities. In the matter of Free Speech, the responsibility that comes with the right is that we all have to ensure that others have the right to express themselves as well.

After all, where do we draw the line? When I was in college, I was a member of the student newspaper, and we came under heavy fire from the school community, as well as the administration of the paper, for running a paid advertisement in which the advertiser wrote a rather incendiary political statement claiming that the Holocaust had never happened. Is he right? Probably not; we all know that in the 1940’s, millions of Jews disappeared from the face of the planet, so it’s safe to say that the man is incorrect in his belief. But does that give him any less a right to express that opinion? No, it doesn’t, and that is why we decided to print his ad. Because he had a right to make his voice heard in a public forum.

People are so interested in preserving their rights, but it seems to me that more and more they are unwilling to make any effort whatsoever to ensure that those rights are preserved for us and for posterity. We are a society of convenience, and as a result of this, we prefer that we give up some of those rights in the interest of that convenience. We allow our rights to be slowly chipped away in the hopes that we’ll be safe a little bit longer. With efforts on the part of our government to help curtail terrorist activity, we are reaching ever closer to the insidious “Thought Crime” which was outlined in “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” We live in a world of the Patriot Act and of a herd mentality, and together those are far more dangerous than one could ever imagine. People are far more intent to be sheep and follow the crowd—something that has been instilled in them since they were young—and in a world like this I applaud those who strive to stand up and say that they won’t tolerate it anymore.

Today, while listening to the news in my car on the way home from work, I heard that California gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger may or may not have said more than two decades ago that he admired Adolf Hitler’s ability to speak well in public, and for his rise to power despite his beginnings as a “little man with almost no formal education.” The news story then went on to detail opinions of certain people who responded to the news tidbit by saying things like “I wouldn’t want a person like that as my governor.” Say what you will, but those are things about Hitler that were admirable qualities. Nobody will deny that Hitler had many things wrong with him, but his leadership qualities were hardly part of that horrendous side. He was a very charismatic man who believed in what he was doing and got others to believe in that as well. That, no matter how you put it, is an admirable quality, whether it’s in a saint or a dictator. I almost feel bad for Schwarzenegger because he was politically forced to retract the statement, regardless of whether he said it or not.

Perhaps if we all respect the opinions of others and help each other to face the responsibilities that come with the rights we all accept as gospel, we’ll be able to move on into a country that once again stands for true freedom and respect for all. It’s a thought worth having.