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Is exercising a right ever wrong?

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By LPR Staff
As a journalist, I’m a big supporter of the First Amendment by nature. The text of the Amendment, of course, states:
“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.”
Excellent words.
And I believe to my core that although people may say things that make our blood boil, we should defend until our dying breath their right to say them.
I started thinking about it when I read in the news the other day that an Arizona shirt-maker has printed and marketed a t-shirt saying, “Bush Lied. They died,” on the front, and listing the names of some 1,650 soldiers that had died in the Middle East since the start of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
From a marketing perspective, I think it’s a great idea. And from a political and social aspect, I think the shirts are a reasonable tool to make people think about the very real, very human losses incurred in the War.
However, the producer of the t-shirts, along with an Austin artist who is producing a wall hanging with a similar message, are at the core of a firestorm of controversy surrounding the First Amendment.
Why? After protests from the survivors of several of the dead service men and women, five states including Texas have passed, or are considering, laws banning the use of the names or images of fallen soldiers for commercial purposes without the express permission of the living next of kin. And, of course, civil rights organizations are jumping up en masse to crucify lawmakers for the passage of the law, stating that it clearly violates the First Amendment.
While I agree that the law may be more than somewhat over-broad, I can’t quite see where banning the use of a fallen soldier’s name or image for profit is wrong. After all, the First Amendment guarantees us the right to say and feel as we wish – but it does not, in fact, give us the right to make money from our opinions.
However, I don’t think this should have ever gotten to the point that it’s a legal issue. I think it’s far past a legal issue, and may have actually exposed a moral breakdown of our society.
After all, both of these artists have stated publicly, according to the accounts I have read, that they support the troops and their families, but not the war or the Bush Administration. Those statements, of course, lead me to wonder, if these men support the troops and their families, why in the world would they continue to do something that some families have asked them, specifically, not to.
One family approached the t-shirt vendor, requesting their son’s name be removed from the shirt, stating that he would never have wanted his name to be used to support an anti-war message. The artist refused.
Had that been my brother, father, nephew or husband’s name, I would have promptly kicked the artist in the shin.
True, the artist has every right to create art in any manner he chooses. And I would gladly kick in the shin anyone who tells him that he can’t.
But as a human, as perhaps a parent, but as a caring, thinking individual, he should have enough respect for the dead, and for their families, to stop if they ask him to. After all, they never said, “You shouldn’t be making this t-shirt.”
They simply said, “If you continue to make this t-shirt, could you please remove my kid’s name… He can’t ask for himself, but he wouldn’t approve.”
I can only guess, but I’d bet that because the dead child was a soldier fighting an unpopular, politically charged war, the artist felt just fine about saying, “No.”
What I have to wonder, though, is if the dead child was one of hundreds of Americans killed by a drunk driver, and the parents asked the same question, would the artist have complied?
And if the artist chose not to, would we be running to his defense or to the defense of the family of the deceased child.
What makes me wonder about the breakdown is the fact that to many people, there might be a difference.

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