The most important right of all


Twenty-four hours ago, the Twitterverse was ablaze with people like me who were mocking an elected official named Kirby Delauter. It turned out that Mr. Delauter didn’t like something a reporter had written about him, and he threatened that reporter with legal action if she wrote his name without his permission.

Of course, #KirbyDelauter took a pounding on Twitter and everywhere else. The idea that someone’s name could be off limits is so imbecilic, so alien to everything that we treasure in a free society. He brought it on himself, by asserting rights that simply do not exist. He has since walked his comments back, declaring that “the first amendment is alive and well.”

But things have since taken a far more sinister turn in Paris. Three gunmen, who were apparently outraged by satirical cartoons about the prophet Muhammad, went into the offices of the Charlie Hebdo publication and began firing. Twelve people were killed in the attack, and support for those who were killed has poured in from around the world.

This was a lot more substantive than a politician wanting to keep his name off-limits. This was a declaration that a religious figure could not be depicted in any way, lest his followers become offended. And this offense would then lead to violence and death. A more intolerable attack on the concept of liberty cannot be imagined.

Nobody–of any religious persuasion–gets to decide when someone dies over a cartoon. It may be only a cartoon, represented by ink on a page or pixels on a computer screen. But it’s a whole lot more than that, too. It’s the idea that angering or offending someone is out of bounds, with the conclusion that any person who feels offended then has the right to take matters into their own hands.

The truth is that nobody has this right, at least not in a modern society. If something I say offends you, that’s your problem. You have only the right to grow some thicker skin and get over it.

The people who gathered in cities around the world tonight were affirming–in the most forceful of all terms–not only their own rights, but also my rights, and your rights, too. It’s an outpouring that seems like it shouldn’t be necessary, but apparently it is.

There simply can’t be people running around in this world, using modern weaponry to enforce a philosophy rooted several centuries in the past. People of all ideological stripes must stand up against this worldview, lest the unyielding forces of intolerance gain a foothold in our modern world.

Let it be known that we–the people of the 21st century–will stand and march and draw and write and otherwise attack the notion that an offensive representation can lead to death. It would appear that even Kirby Delauter can get on board with this idea.

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