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The First Amendment's Fair Weather Friends

Kristen Juras, the University of Montana law professor who is trying to shut down a student-written sex column (see here) would do well to read an opinion piece published this week by one of the nation's preeminent First Amendment lawyers, Floyd Abrams. In the piece, "First Amendment Deserves More than Fleeting Friends," published by The Media Institute, Abrams critiques those who raise the flag of the First Amendment when it serves their ends but who are just as quick to hoist it down when it gets in their way.

Liberals vigilantly seek to protect the rights of adults to receive not-quite-obscene materials on the Internet, but seem all but indifferent to UN-sponsored efforts to ban the supposed "defamation" of Islam. Conservatives care deeply about such efforts to stifle speech, but offer little if any protection to American students when they mouth off outside of their schools.

Abrams offers the Fairness Doctrine as a case in point. For years, the conservative organization Accuracy in Media patrolled the airwaves with eagle eyes, looking for -- and complaining about -- broadcasts that failed to present its viewpoint sufficiently. The FCC abolished the Fairness Doctrine more than a decade ago, but now some on the left are urging its reinstatement out of angst over right-wing talk radio commentators and conservatives are opposing them.

"One of the oldest of all political observations is that where you stand depends upon where you sit," Abrams concludes. "Is it really too much to ask that those who claim that they care about the First Amendment -- everybody, that is -- stand in favor of free speech even when the speech at issue pains them ideologically?" Maybe the editors at the Montana Kaimin should ask Abrams about reprinting his piece on their opinion page, right next to the column that has the law professor up in arms.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on March 13, 2009 at 03:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

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