Editorial: Strong opinions are lifeblood of free society

Whatever one may think of his occupation, the slaying of Kansas abortion provider George Tiller — in church no less — was a heinous and disgusting act.

The person who did it and anyone who condoned the act, even indirectly or with a “got what was coming to him” wink and nod, has forfeited the right to be called “pro-life” in any but the most hypocritical fashion.

Unfortunately, the killing has been used to tar virtually the entire anti-abortion movement and to come close to suggesting that people with certain opinions should just shut up. The American tradition of tolerating and welcoming free speech — yes, sometimes even offensive speech — is thereby put in some danger.

Scott Roeder, 51, has been arrested in conjunction with Dr. Tiller’s murder. Though any accused person has to be formally considered innocent until proven guilty, he seems a likely suspect.

His former wife, who divorced him in 1996, claims he underwent a personality change, becoming more eager to find scapegoats for things in society that bothered him, like taxes and abortion. He was not a central member of any anti-abortion movement but something of a hanger-on, although some anti-abortion activists remember seeing him at various rallies.

He served jail time in 1996 on an explosives charge. Pro-choice activists say he was not high on anybody’s list of potential threats.

Thus we have a troubled individual who scrambled to find meaning for himself in quasi-political activity and eventually (though it hasn’t been proven in court yet) was able to justify to himself the murder of an abortion-providing doctor.

But the word around the left-wing blogosphere is that Bill O’Reilly of Fox News and other abortion opponents should be charged with accessory to murder. O’Reilly had featured Tiller on a number of episodes of his show, usually calling him “Tiller the Killer.”

O’Reilly’s competitor on MSNBC, Keith Olbermann, said O’Reilly had “blood on his hands,” and that was one of the milder condemnations.

It isn’t just the Left that tries to silence ideological opponents. We remember many, including the estimable O’Reilly, who said, once the Iraq war had started, that it was tantamount to treason to criticize the war when soldiers were in the field.