Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Posted on 27. Sep, 2009 by in Uncategorized

Last week, in a remote part of Kentucky, a federal census worker was found murdered under mysterious circumstances. The man, Bill Sparkman, was found naked and bound in a national forest with a noose around his neck, his Census I.D. duct taped to his forehead, and the word “fed” scrawled on his chest. At this point, investigators are considering that the killing may simply have been a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time as the area is known to have numerous meth labs and bootleggers. But perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the story so far is the fact that a political motivation for the slaying can’t be ruled out.

This kind of thing is especially troubling when you consider some recent comments by prominent members of the conservative. Michele Bachmann, a congresswoman from Minnesota, has said that she won’t fill out a census form next year because of fears that the information might be misused, hinting darkly about the possibility of Americans being placed into internment camps by their government. Neal Boortz said that census takers were “looters”. Glenn Beck voiced concerns about ACORN’s involvement as a group that contributed workers to compiling census results.*

Let it be said that as of now there’s no evidence that the Sparkman murder was a political killing. However, given the circumstances around it and a series of similar, but unrelated, events (see here, here and here) that occurred earlier this year, it might be a good time to once again consider the consequences of overheated rhetoric.

We hold the right to free speech deeply in this country, so much so that it is written into the first amendment of our Constitution. At the same time, however, we also recognize that there are limitations to free speech and some of the more hysterical claims being made against the Obama administration (that the government was instructing FEMA to build concentration camps, that health care reform would result in “death panels” that would deny people care, that states might see the need to succeed from the union ) seem to come awfully close to being the equivalent of “(falsely) shouting fire in a crowded theater.” I’m not saying that Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck have gone as far as to incite a riot, but at what point do we expect people, especially those in the public arena, to understand that their words have power and that they should bear at least some responsibility for actions carried out in service of those words?

*ACORN is no longer an active part of census collection efforts.

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