Flagging censorship

By Elizabeth Held
Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Saturday, I was at the annual Niska-Day parade with two of my friends. One friend turned to the other and said, “Do you think the Confederate flag car will be here this year?” I had no idea what they were talking about because I had missed the parade last year.

A few minutes later, it became evident. Behind the marching bands and the fire trucks was an exact replica of the General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard. It was burnt orange with a massive Confederate flag painted on its roof.

I understand for some people the Confederate flag is an important part of history, but for many people it’s a symbol of hatred, racist and oppression.

I thought it was an anachronism. The Confederate flag is not a historical symbol for most living in upstate New York, nor does it have anything to do with celebrating Niskayuna. I wondered for a few minutes why it was a part of the parade.

A few days later, the car was brought up again at an N-CAP meeting. N-CAP stands for Niskayuna Community Action Program and is the group that sponsors Niska-Day. At the meeting on Monday, a community member stated that he knew of people who found the car’s presence in the parade offensive. Immediately, my fellow N-CAP members said they would look into not including the car in next year’s parade.

My mind jumped somewhere different. In the 1977 federal court case, National Socialist Party of America v. Skokie, judges ruled that members of the Nazi party must be allowed to march in a parade in Skokie, Ill. One judge stated, “The ability of American society to tolerate the advocacy even of the hateful doctrines espoused by the plaintiffs without abandoning its commitment to freedom of speech and assembly is perhaps the best protection we have against the establishment of any Nazi-type regime in this country.”

I don’t endorse what the Confederate flag stood for, I don’t support secession and I most definitely do not stand for slavery. But I do worry that if we censor, we set a dangerous precedent. I have a hard time thinking of something more dangerous to a democracy than the loss of free speech. One of my favorite historical quotes is from Voltaire, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

I know these topics — the Confederate flag and censorship — incite strong feelings in people. I look forward to reading what you think. Should we ban the Confederate flag from Niska-Day? Or should we view it as a form of free speech?

© The Daily Gazette Co. 2008

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