Free speech issues abundant these days

By Ned Cantwell

There is no lack of hot-button, free-speech issues hogging New Mexico news these days. They were the subject of legislative debate, they are hanging in the air over Taos, roaming the eastern plains.

A fellow in Clovis drives a banana yellow Ford Focus. He wants to stand out. You could argue that if standing out is your goal, tooling around town in a banana yellow Ford Focus does the trick.

Apparently not. Dean Young says there are a lot of banana yellow Ford Focuses in Clovis. Too bad. The town is famous for its quick, burly football teams and is home to the state high school girls basketball champs. Alas, now the eastern plains city must admit she has just horrible taste in cars.

To separate himself from the pack, Young affixed to his banana yellow Ford Focus a pair of lusty, bare breasted she-devils who, according to police and prosecutors, appear to be engaged in sex.

Prompted by alarmed parents, authorities filed misdemeanor charges against Young in a case now ensnarled in legal technicality.

Now, three guesses. Where do you think Young could find some solid legal advice to get the prosecution off his back? Well, of course, before you could say “here come de judge,” my friends at the American Civil Liberties Union were on the case.

Here’s what that ACLU lawyer had to say: “I think we’d be hard put to find a stronger case for free speech here.” Really? We will be watching the Clovis case for updates.

Meanwhile, in Santa Fe there was a free-speech issue of enormous importance. The Legislature wanted to dictate to newspapers they must run free obituary notices.

Don’t get me wrong. I wish newspapers did not charge for obits. If a local newspaper can’t get a person born, educated, married and buried, I’m not sure I understand its purpose. Never once in my career did I charge for an obituary. (There will be a brief time out while the writer pauses to pat himself on the back.)

There is one thing much worse than a newspaper charging for obituaries. And that is the government having the authority to tell that newspaper what news it must run. Goodbye, democracy. They are doing that in Russia, and no one is very happy with the system.

Elsewhere, a judge has ruled the Town of Taos may not prevent a street banner shouting the words “Fire Rumsfeld.” To my knowledge, the ACLU was not involved in this case, but perhaps no surprise. Sending another liberal to Taos would be like sticking sexy decals on a topless photo of Pamela Anderson.

The Taos case is interesting. I suspect the judge was right. On the other hand, it would seem the air above the town’s busiest street might belong to the public, and I am not sure how I would feel if it were polluted with a message I found distasteful.

My guess is that if you stretched across the main street in your town a banner that proclaims, Jesus Saves, it would violate separation of church and state. However, if the town protested an atheist group’s banner that said God Is Dead, such a protest would be labeled a violation of free speech.

Ned Cantwell is a syndicated New Mexico columnist. He’s glad the Clovis News Journal does not charge for obituaries. Contact him at: ncantwell@charter.net