Friday, May 14, 2010

Whatever you do, don't insult bin Laden in front of a cop...

The other day, my brother and I were sitting in a government building (I think it was the driver's license office). We were chatting away without thinking, the way we usually do, and we got to laughing about Osama bin Laden. To clarify, my brother and I usually operate on the philosophy that terrorists create power for themselves by striking fear into their enemies, and that the greatest way to combat this is to poke fun at them at every opportunity.

As we're sitting there laughing, a police officer shows up out of nowhere. He must have been listening in, because he says, "I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to ask you to either stop talking about that or leave."

Of course, since we both seem to have a genetic predisposition to inappropriate laughter, we both just burst out laughing even more.

Finally, teary-eyed and gasping for breath, we somehow managed to apologize. Or at least to say something close enough to an apology that the police officer was satisfied and went away.

Now that the initial shock of being publicly reprimanded by a police officer is over (the most illegal thing I've ever done is going 75 in a 60mph zone), I can't help but wonder about the legality of this. I can't say that I'm an expert on the subject of free speech, but I was always under the impression that you could say anything as long as it wasn't slander or hate speech. Perhaps there's a new "terrorism" clause of which I am unaware?

Did the police officer have a right to deny access to public services to myself and my brother based on what we were talking about? I doubt it, but you would find many people who think he should be given that right.

How does this sort of thing make anyone safer? And why are we, as individuals and as a society, willing to put up with it for the illusion of safety? (I say "illusion" because I am talking solely about cases in which the action being restricted does not appreciably affect public safety in any way.)

When will we as a nation stand up for ourselves? I just wish that we as a society would stand up and say, "No. This is one of the basic rights our country was founded upon. We will protect it with our dying breath. You cannot take this away from us."

But then, if I as an individual cannot be bothered to stand up for myself, how can I expect a whole society of individuals to do so? That's pretty hypocritical of me. What will it take for all of us to notice that we are not the free society that we proclaim to the world that we are?

No wonder the rest of the world tends to think that Americans are hypocritical douchebags. We really are in a lot of ways.

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