With Petraeus resolution, Senate values militarism over free speech

by LEONARD WITT, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

On Sept. 17, we as a nation celebrated Constitution Day, a day the Congress established in 2005 to help us remember what a great document the Constitution of the United States of America is. Unfortunately, last week the U.S. Senate demonstrated how fragile that document is.

Seventy-two of them resolved that they "strongly condemn personal attacks on the honor and integrity of General Petraeus and all members of the United States Armed Forces."

Also last week, Rudy Giuliani attacked the offending MoveOn.org ad, which insulted Gen. David Petraeus. He told the National Rifle Association, "We passed a line that we should not allow any American political organization to pass."

What an irony. Here is Giuliani, the possible future president of the United States of America, trashing the spirit of the First Amendment, in front of the NRA, which elevates the Constitution's Second Amendment to sacred scripture. Just as a reminder, here are the exact words of the First Amendment, which all of us should see as sacred:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

OK, this time the Congress did not pass a law "abridging the freedom of speech," but I would argue they, in fact, did abridge our freedom to speak out by sending a message to We the People of the United States of America that we should not insult a general.

They did so on the floor of the Senate, the same place where they vote on laws, which could in the future strengthen or weaken the constitution.

What differentiates the United States from places such as Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union, Adolf Hitler's Germany and Benito Mussolini's Italy is that each of us has the unabridged freedom of speech to call a general a jerk or to say he has betrayed us. We also have that same right to say it about any elected official, which I will do right here:

The members of the U.S. Senate, who initiated and voted to "strongly condemn personal attacks" of generals, betrayed the spirit of the Constitution of the United States of America.

Shame on them and shame on any of us who don't tell them of the injury they have done to free speech during a week where the Constitution was to be elevated, not devalued.

article originally published at http://www.ajc.com/opinion/content/opinion/stories/2007/09/23/witted_0924.html.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey