We citizens have a guaranteed constitutional right to free speech, which means government cannot abridge the people’s opinions in thought or in speech.
It’s the foundation upon which this country was built, and from which all other rights extend.
If we believe that our government is a government of the people, conversely that means that our government officials have protection from “we the people” infringing on officials’ free speech.
That’s the dramatic irony about the dustup over Mayor Robert Macdonald’s recent comments regarding immigrant culture and American assimilation.
Citizens in this country proudly enjoy the right to free speech, but some among us don’t want that right to extend to Macdonald? Why not?
He’s a citizen. We’re the government. If “we the government” demand he keep quiet on matters some of us may not agree with, aren’t we in violation of the very constitutional protections we hold so dear?
Should Macdonald be forced to resign? For speaking his mind? Absolutely not.
He made no oath of political correctness, nor does the city charter have a recall provision to remove him from office.
Morever, as Council President Mark Cayer so appropriately and heartfeltly pointed out on Thursday, that charter doesn’t give any councilor or the mayor more power to voice his or her opinion than any other person. The mayor, while representing his constituents in Lewiston, doesn’t speak for them or for his fellow Council members.
“Like any individual councilor,” Cayer said, “the mayor’s comments and beliefs are his own.”
Like it or not.
Do we wish the mayor had polished his thoughts about immigrant residents of Lewiston before presenting them? And then repeating them?
Absolutely. We believe his comments were unfortunate and we hope he will, if he has not already, reconsider the meaning of culture and how his remarks — any remarks — are interpreted by others. He is, after all, the top elected official in Lewiston and people look to him for guidance and understanding.
But, no matter what others may think of what he has said, he has the right to say it. And plenty of people have thanked him for doing so.
Our constitutional protection to free speech doesn’t guarantee our words have to be politically correct or even kind. We don’t have to agree with every spoken word. We don’t have to like another person’s opinion. We don’t even have to like the person making the utterance.
We do, however, have to respect every person’s right to speak. If we don’t, we risk eroding our own personal protections to do the same.
“We are a diverse group with many different philosophies,” Cayer said of the City Council, a sentiment that applies to humankind.
“As we move forward,” he said, “it is vital that we consistently act upon the fact that people are people. Period. There is no room for separations of “us” or “them.” Here in Lewiston, it is important that we be known as a united community, a group of people working together for the benefit of all of us.”
And, if there’s action to be taken here, it is not resignation. It is confrontation about what makes this community great and what we must do to make it better. What makes the people who live here valuable and what we can do to improve our lot. And, perhaps most importantly, what we want the world to think of us.
This is a unique community filled with good people.
Let’s celebrate that and proclaim it to the world.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.