As the calendar flipped from 2015 to 2016, the Washington Redskins were basking in two momentous pieces of good news. The first being the Redskins winning the NFC East, thereby qualifying for the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2012. The second piece of news, even more significant than the playoffs, played out off the gridiron and didn’t involve the team but an Asian American rock band known as the Slants.
To give some background for those of you who are unaware, the fight over the Washington football team nickname Redskins had leapt from the never ending debate on whether it is appropriate to use the term Redskins, to the courtroom where big brother was doing his best to throw cold water on the freedom of speech and expression. The first two rounds of this battle went to the censors when the United States Patent and Trademark Office injected itself into the debate and took the highly unusual and provocative measure of canceling the Washington Redskins’ trademarks that had been legally recognized for nearly 50 years. The reason cited was that it was “disparaging to Native Americans.”
This decision was later reaffirmed by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board by a 2-1 margin. After this ruling was handed down, Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell, representing Washington state, gleefully said, “This puts a big dent in their business model of trying to gain revenue from a disparaging term or slur.” She went on to add, “I find it very unlikely that someone is going to overrule the patent office on this. This is a huge decision by a federal agency.” She also promised to invoke other remedies in the Senate to leverage away the Washington Redskins’ use of their nickname, if this ruling eventually does get overturned. Evelyn Beatrice Hall she ain’t, but Cantwell was right about one thing: this was a huge win for a federal agency, and a chilling defeat for those of us who believe in free speech and who are naïve enough to think that one of the primary responsibilities of the federal government is to protect speech, not squelch it.
But then, right before Christmas, the Slants and the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit of Washington arrived like Santa delivering a much needed Christmas gift. The Slants, you see, were having trouble registering the name of their rock band for trademark protection, as some deemed it offensive. In the case of the Slants, the court stated what one would assume should have been obvious in America, that the First Amendment “forbids government regulators to deny registration because they find the speech likely to offend others.” Writing for the majority, Kimberly A. Moore, said: “It is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment that the government may not penalize private speech merely because it disapproves of the message it conveys.”
Although this case has no direct legal bearing on the fight over the Washington Redskins’ nickname, several legal experts believe this ruling will help the Redskins as it sets precedence and may also help strike down parts of the Lanham Act which deals with allegedly disparaging or offensive trademarks.
Whether or not the Redskins prevail in this battle is just the tip of the iceberg. In recent years it has become obvious that something we once considered sacrosanct, freedom of speech, has come under increased pressure in the United States. Go to one of dozens of college campuses in America and you’ll find something called “free speech zones,” implying if you are not in one of these zones that free speech is a privilege not a right on campus. Adding to this is the recent poll from the Pew Research Center where 40% of people surveyed between the ages of 18 and 34 believe offensive statements made about minorities should be federally regulated. It is more than worrisome that young adults, the next big bloc of voters, are only mildly tepid in their support of free speech.
The modern rationale given by most who wish to suppress speech is almost always, of course, political correctness and the obsession not to have “hate speech.” So much for sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. It would be wise if those among us who think speech should be regulated take a good look at our leaders in Washington and ask themselves, do we really want those people, or any other people for that matter, to be the arbiters of what can be expressed?
Whether you root for the Redskins in the playoffs is your business, but I hope you join me in rooting for the Redskins and the Slants, and others fighting against political correctness and for free speech.
Notice to Readers: The American Spectator and Spectator World are marks used by independent publishing companies that are not affiliated in any way. If you are looking for The Spectator World please click on the following link: https://thespectator.com/world.