I attend church with a woman whose life story is anything but conventional. In fact, her epic tale of war, terror, tragedy and survival is the stuff Hollywood often turns into blockbuster films. Her name is Veronika, and her family lived under the threat of not one, but many dictatorships spanning four countries and several generations. From her grandparents and parents who fled to Latvia from Russia to escape the Bolsheviks, to fleeing (at just 2 years old) with her parents to Poland to again escape Russia’s reach. They faced the impossible task of choosing between two dictators—Russia’s Stalin or Germany’s Hitler. Since her family had long been considered enemies of Russia after the fall of Tsar Nicholas, it was assumed that Hitler would be the lesser of two evils. Sadly her father was soon forced into service for the Nazis, leaving the young girl and her young mother to fend for themselves amongst Gestapo and invading Russian forces.
Decades later, she sits in a lovely home in a Twin Cities suburb and retells her story. Her perspective is unique—her eyes see this nation unlike most of us do. She sees the little things; the intricacies that most of us otherwise overlook. Among many things, she spoke of freedom of speech. In particular, the freedom to say whatever one wants about our leaders. Her eyes glisten with the memories of many years as she ponders what such a concept means. She escaped the Iron Curtain of the Soviet Union and survived Hitler’s horrors, but knows of so many who did not. Those who were mistreated or killed found themselves inflicted with such horrors primarily because they either didn’t worship at the feet of those in power, or simply stood in the way
She spoke of many treasured freedoms that day, but her recognition that we have the right—and even the responsibility—to criticize our leadership when they’re out of line is paramount in our venture to remain free citizens. Moreover, even if a citizen wishes to poke fun at a leader that he or she believes to be inept or inadequate—this too falls within free speech. There are limits, naturally—every American ought to have respect for our leaders, especially the office of the presidency. What no American should ever be asked to do, however, is to treat the person holding that temporary position as though they are in some kind of class above it all; a royal who is out of bounds of public ire. This is indeed the beauty of our free republic—that we not only choose our leaders, but we are equally able to criticize, and even mock those leaders. This is truly unique in our world’s long history. From leaders who snatched power like Russia’s Lenin, to ones who were born into it like England’s Henry VIII, our world has seen its share of untouchable power of which no one (that is, if they valued their lives) dared criticize or mock.
This distinctive freedom is something we’ve enjoyed here for quite some time. Our Constitution’s 1st amendment protections have allowed the mockery or criticism of every president. For example:
Not unlike these past examples, a certain rodeo clown decided to have a little fun recently. Quite simply, this Missouri man decided to participate in what history shows us is a long line of Constitutionally-protected poking fun at or openly mocking the leader of the Free World:
Photo Credit: AP
Donning a mask meant to imitate our current President’s appearance, Jameson Hsieh joked around about being chased by a bull.
He was summarily fired, and permanently banned from performing at the state fair. All future state fair rodeo clowns have been made to enroll in “sensitivity training,” and provide proper documentation that they have completed said courses. The NAACP has called for “a full review by both the Secret Service and the Justice Department.”
The guy put on an Obama mask in the middle of a rodeo area and mocked the president’s less-than-stellar record in office. It was supposed to be funny. In fact, most of the stadium—from what we’re told—was doubled over in laughter.
Do Hsieh’s employers reserve the right to decide what he can and can’t do at work, and subsequently fire him if they deem fit? Certainly.
But just because his jokes rubbed certain people the wrong way, does that justify calls for the federal government to begin an investigation? Moreover—in light of certain comments a likening the stunt to a “KKK rally,” since when does the color of one’s skin forever protect that person from any criticism—serious or in jest?
We must know history. We must know stories like Veronika’s; stories that remind us of what it’s like in the land of the un-free. Do we truly want to live in a country in which We the People are prohibited from saying anything but positive things about our leadership? Vigorously protect freedom of speech . . . even if you don’t always agree with the stance.