Free Speech Should Not be a License to Abandon Our Humanity

For the past couple of weeks, there has been a battle brewing around the Capitol, and it has nothing to do with Donald Trump.
This time.

No, the battle has drawn a dividing line between free speech versus what is decent, humane, and noble.

Several weeks ago, a story surfaced regarding a student painting that was hung in the Capitol complex, in Washington, D.C.
The painting depicted police officers as pigs, holding their guns on protesters.

When Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Ca.) took it upon himself to remove the offensive painting and have it returned to the office of the congressman who was responsible for it being there, Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), the battle was on.

Rep. Clay and the Congressional Black Caucus, with great fanfare, rehung the painting, defiantly calling it a “free speech” issue.

But that still wasn’t the end of it. Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Brian Babin (R-Texas) removed it together shortly afterward, forcing Clay to return it for a third time in one day.
Since then, someone – the identity unknown by Clay’s office – has taped above the painting an image of the American flag with a highlighted blue stripe, a symbol of support for law enforcement.

Let’s be honest: Had a white Republican decided that a depiction of the KKK lynching a black man was “art” and had hung it in a prominent place, Clay and the rest of the CBC would not be such vocal fans of the freedom of speech.

This was about making a statement against law enforcement, and they meant for it to be ugly and divisive.

Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), a former sheriff, asked the Architect of the Capitol on Wednesday to review whether the painting violated rules of the student art competition that prohibit “subjects of contemporary political controversy or a sensationalistic or gruesome nature.” The competition guidelines adhere to the policy of the House Office Building Commission, which is currently controlled by GOP leaders.

I would say this particular display of “art” certainly meets the criteria for prohibition.
And police officers were offended. They were hurt.

Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) office informed Reichert on Friday that the Architect of the Capitol concluded the artwork did indeed violate the rules. The painting will be removed on Tuesday.

And that is a good thing.

One tragic fact that should be threaded in with this story is that a black police officer and mother of two was gunned down in Orlando, Florida, the day before the Congressional Black Caucus so callously, hatefully chose to make a show of rehanging a painting that, basically, portrayed her as a pig.
The Congressional Black Caucus have forgotten their own sense of humanity.
The fact that this painting was allowed to hang for as long as it did in a high traffic area on Capitol Hill shows a disgusting lack of respect for the very difficult job our police officers do, every day.

For now, it is taken care of, and the good guys won.
What doesn’t change is the fact that we have representatives in Washington who are too willing to foment the ugliest parts of our society, and are doing so while their very livelihood relies on the tax dollars of those they’re insulting.

Free speech, the freedom of expression is a wonderful thing. We should never rush to trade our humanity or the break the bonds of good will, in order to make a point, however.

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Susan Wright

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