Last week, men with automatic weapons tried to silence freedom of expression. They killed a dozen people at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris; however, they failed in their mission.
Instead of silence, the attack prompted solidarity as people rallied around the cherished ideal illustrated by the French magazine: A basic tenet of a free society is to be able to speak out, even when – especially when – the ideas are controversial or unpopular. The world has seen the repression and punishments people suffer in nations that forbid free expression; they have seen the violence and intolerance of extremist organizations. Freedom-loving people want no part of either.
The most powerful images from the Paris tragedy were not of the carnage, but of thousands of people gathered at a vigil in Paris and the lighted sign: Not afraid.
That needs to be the mantra for all of us. Fortunately in America, guns usually aren’t fired to silence views, but freedom of expression regularly comes under attack and constantly must be defended. North Korea doesn’t get to decide what movies Americans watch. “The Interview” played in movie houses recently despite threats of violence. Elected officials can’t order newspapers to not write about them as Frederick County Councilman Kirby Delauter tried in Maryland. His threats just got his name in papers across the nation.
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The vigilance also extends to related freedoms. Government officials in America regularly try to withhold records that should be public, or make it so difficult to obtain them that people give up. Those attacks are also dangerous to basic principles and can’t be tolerated either.