[March 25, 2003]

Also published 3/25/03 in Capitalism Magazine

Dixie Chicks in the Frying Pan, but Free Speech isn't

By Wayne Dunn

Dixie Chicks lead clucker Natalie Maines has fans wanting to kick her in the tail feathers. Cumulus Broadcasting is even banning the Chicks from all its 260 stations.

Some have suggested, however, that the Cumulus decision violates Maines' First Amendment rights. "I thought one of our rights as Americans was to speak our minds," one Tennessean lamented.

Well, Maines spoke her mind. And still can. The Chick is free to cackle anything she wishes. Her First Amendment rights are as robust now as they were when she flogged Bush in front of that London audience.

Though Maines' little nugget may have sweetened fans there, it soured many back home. Most think she laid a big goose egg and are ready to fry her for it--by requesting radio stations either pluck the Chicks or lose listeners.

So exactly whose rights are violated by this? No one's.

Free speech is not a free ticket to other people's resources. My freedom to express my opinion in this piece doesn't obligate anyone to publish it. The First Amendment simply prohibits congress from outlawing my writing it or anyone else from printing it. In other words, the First Amendment guarantees you the freedom to say what you please; it doesn't guarantee you a platform on which to say it or an audience that'll pay for it.

Station owners choosing--for whatever reasons, rational or irrational-- not to air someone's music or views doesn't trample anyone's rights. To the contrary, it's an instance of the owners exercising their rights to their own property.

Just as individuals each have the right to express their opinions, so too do individuals each have the right not to abet those with opinions they disapprove of.

What if it wasn't like that though? What if the right to free speech meant, as some seem to believe it does in fact mean, bolstering speech with which you disagree?

Well, it would imply, for example, that if Bush supporters disrupted a Dixie Chicks concert by singing the National Anthem or whatever, that ejecting the disrupters from the premises would violate their First Amendment rights. It would mean that if I showed up on a war-protester's doorstep and began lecturing him on why the war in Iraq is right, that throwing me off his property might land him in jail for thwarting my free speech. It would even mean that if someone randomly plopped a manuscript in your lap and demanded you publish it, not doing so would legally justify his crying, "How dare you infringe my freedom of speech!"

Under that false notion of free speech, note whose actual rights get trampled. Note how a "right" that imposes obligations on others demolishes real rights.

Natalie Maines apologized for her comments --the Chicks are tired of getting pecked and want back in the hen house. And if fans want to forgive her, that's their prerogative. If radio stations donít play them, that's their business. But a proper understanding of free speech will help keep us all out of the frying pan.

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© COPYRIGHT 2003 by Wayne Dunn