"We have met the enemy and he is us."

--Pogo Possum

Somewhere, somehow in this great country of ours, we have become a nation of deaf people.

We don't listen.

We have moved so far left and so far right that, anymore, we refuse to allow dissent. We no longer tolerate opposing points of view. Those we disagree with are booed, banned or, in some cases, bombed.

Granted, this didn't happen overnight, but over time.

Within the span of a hundred or so short years, we've moved from encouraging thought to discouraging it. We've gone from participating to politically correct -- and the results are dramatic.

In the 1980s Salomon Rushdie published "The Satanic Verses." The ink on the book's pages was hardly dry before Middle Eastern religious leaders called for his death.

Simply because of something he wrote.

In America we collectively cried "foul" and filled our airwaves with pronouncements of how much more civilized we were and how we embraced different opinions and ideas.

We strutted. Here, in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, we encourage dissent. Our rights are guaranteed -- just ask the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Fast-forward three decades.

The Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines speaks against President Bush and the Iraq war during a performance in London. The ink on the nation's newspaper pages was hardly dry before many in this country called for Maines' death. Silence her, they said. Burn her records. Shut her down.

Simply because of something she said.

Sound familiar?

Incidents like this are becoming all too common. More and more people call for death and destruction because they don't like what they hear. Radio stations across the country banned the Chick's songs from the air because they upset people. Listeners called in and called for boycotts of the ladies' music. Maines received death threats.

It's time for this sickness to be cured.

If our great and noble country wants to continue to call itself the Land of the Free, then those with a differing opinion must be allowed their space.

You cannot have democracy without dissent. This wonderful and vast arena for public opinion must be available to all comers -- not just those we agree with. Free speech must, truly, have no strings attached to qualify as free.

Want to really take the First Amendment out for a spin? Change the channel if you don't like the program. Read a different book. Listen to both sides of the story. Go to a different church.

Sure, tune out the junk -- but, at the same time, make sure there is a space for it.

Remember: just because the person next to you chooses to speak doesn't mean you are forced to listen.

Most of all, think for yourself.

Search for truth.

At the United States Supreme Court it is often the dissenting opinions which -- over the course of time -- carry more weight.

To disagree, to protest, to speak what's on your mind is an honorable thing -- provided that same right is available for the next guy, too.

If you honestly want freedom of speech, make sure there is a soapbox for the opposition; otherwise the only thing we'll see when we look in the mirror is the enemy.

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