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Censoring words, playing word games and punishing anyone who doesn’t agree with whatever the government says is not what our founding fathers had in mind when they talked about freedom of speech.

There is a pall over our country. In separate but related attempts to squelch dissent, the government has attacked the patriotism of its critics, police have barricaded and jailed protesters, and the New York Stock Exchange has revoked the press credentials of the most widely watched television network in the Arab world. A chilling message has gone out across America: Dissent if you must, but proceed at your own risk. Government-sanctioned intolerance has even trickled into our private lives. People brandishing anti-war signs or slogans have been turned away from commuter trains in Seattle and suburban shopping malls in upstate New York. Cafeterias are serving “freedom fries.” Country music stations stopped playing Dixie Chicks songs, and the Baseball Hall of Fame cancelled an event featuring “Bull Durham” stars Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, after they spoke out against the war on Iraq. Compounding the offense is the silence from many lawmakers. There is palpable fear even in the halls of Congress of expressing an unpopular view. Why should this disturb us? Because democracy is not a quiet business. Its lifeblood is the free and vibrant exchange of ideas. As New York Times columnist and author Thomas L. Friedman has pointed out, the war on terror is also a war of ideas. How are we going to convince holdouts in other countries about the importance of free speech and civil liberties if we show so little faith in our own?
With U.S. forces deployed overseas, and concerns about safety and freedom at home, we ought to be having as robust a debate as possible. Thank you ACLU!

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