The Community Connection

Should cancel culture be cancelled?

- By Charles Harder InsideSour­ Charles Harder is a litigation attorney in Los Angeles with decades of experience in lawsuits involving the First Amendment. He wrote this for InsideSurc­es. com.

Is “cancel culture” a toxic online trend or a tool for social justice? Is it an effort to shut down free speech and expression, or an exercise in effective accountabi­lity? Debate on both sides has run rampant over the past year with no clear answer.

When it comes to the cancel culture debate, an important litmus test to apply when thinking about whether something—or someone—should be canceled is this: Does the punishment fit the crime? Vigorous debate, and even unpopular ideas, must be protected. Not only protected but encouraged. When people become scared to speak freely or are punished for expressing an unpopular view, American society inches closer to becoming homogenous, and where freedoms and diverse thoughts are suppressed.

The Founding Fathers wrote the First Amendment to ensure for all Americans the right to free speech and free expression, without persecutio­n. Everyone should feel free to exercise those rights without fear of backlash.

Problems arise when an expression of this First Amendment right is not respectful. The KKK should be canceled, even though hate speech has been held by the U.S. Supreme Court to be legally protected speech in such cases as Matal v. Tam (2017) and Virginia v. Black (2003). But beyond hate speech and other terribly unacceptab­le speech, while I don’t condone disrespect­ing the flag or the national anthem, I strongly support people being allowed to speak their mind without fear of being canceled for it.

In July 2020, 153 artists, writers, and intellectu­als made the public case that cancel culture should be, well, canceled, by signing “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate.” Among its signatorie­s: J.K. Rowling, MIT linguist Noam Chomsky, feminist Gloria Steinem, musician Wynton Marsalis, former ACLU president Nadine Strossen, and Margaret Atwood, who wrote The Handmaid’s Tale. “The free exchange of informatio­n and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricte­d,” the letter reads, citing “an intoleranc­e of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retributio­n in response to perceived transgress­ions of speech and thought.”

Naturally, the signatorie­s caught flack for signing it.

Colin Kaepernick could be the poster boy for cancel culture. As quarterbac­k for the San Francisco 49ers, he led his team to the 2012 Super Bowl. In 2016, he kneeled instead of stood during the national anthem, to draw attention to police brutality and racial injustice. NFL fans — a largely white, male audience less interested in Kaepernick’s message and more interested in respecting the flag and soldiers — reacted strongly, frightenin­g team owners who feared a backlash if they kept him rostered. Kaepernick never played another football game — canceled by the NFL.

In the words of his former teammate, Eric Reid, who took a knee with him, “our protest is being misconstru­ed as disrespect­ful to the country, flag and military personnel . ... it’s exactly the opposite…. the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest.”

After George Floyd’s tragic death in May 2020, the NFL’s commission­er apologized for “not listening” to players about racism — but never mentioned Kaepernick’s name or apologized to him.

Kaepernick seems to be what the 153 signers of the open letter were addressing. He was canceled because he expressed his views on an important issue, in the face of strong disagreeme­nt. He didn’t hurt anyone. He did not mean to offend anyone. He simply was doing what he felt was appropriat­e: not participat­ing in the national anthem to draw attention to an extremely important issue.

I believe that less cancellati­on, and more thoughtful considerat­ion of context — plus appreciati­on for viewpoints we disagree with, particular­ly when communicat­ed in a respectful, law-abiding way — would benefit all of us.

So applying the test to Colin Kaepernick: Did the punishment fit the crime? My answer: Where’s the crime?

 ??  ?? Charles Harder
Charles Harder

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