Free speech is not divisible

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Thursday, June 25, 2015

Jack loves youThis is something I do not want to write, because a lot of unpleasantness proceeds it. Begin with the derailment of Amtrak train 188 at Frankford Junction, Pa., in May. We know a lot about that multi-fatality accident but we really do not know why it happened. Add to that an online comment by a small advertiser to Trains Magazine that was disparaging of the engineer of train 188, to the effect that he was a “foamer,” which as we all know is a railfan first and foremost.

The advertiser’s remark was combustible. Please understand that a significant number of engineers and conductors are, like the rest of us, people who love trains. It is a vocation but more than that.

Well, to a few retired and present engineers and conductors and their acolytes who congregate on Facebook, the advertiser’s offhand internet remark was World War III. Myself, I am offended by it, too, yet it’s one person’s opinion.

But a retired Amtrak engineer asks Trains to expunge this advertiser. The magazine, of course, says no. The remark is not contained in an advertisement and, in any event, we are all protected by the First Amendment, are we not? I mean, if the First Amendment protects you and allows you to say stupid things, it applies to me and to everyone else, too. But in the heat of the moment, this longtime Trains reader and his circle of friends on Facebook declares a fatwa, or boycott of the magazine. Yup, I was caught in the crossfire and in the end wished I could exchange my skin for cow leather or maybe hardened steel. I am still picking at the scabs.

I am a blogger and columnist, and do not speak for anyone but myself in this little essay. But because I got dragged into it, I will exercise my right of free speech as well: To the boycott crowd, godspeed and farewell. We will see you in the hereafter. You need better perspective. The money counters at Trains will never notice your absence, I predict. And to the advertiser in Trains: Maybe you ought to reconsider what you said.

And with that, I am off from Virginia to Colorado in my car with man’s best friend Jack, whose love for me is total and unconditional, like the First Amendment ought to be. I am turning off my phone and forgetting email for three days. Those who do not agree with me on this matter—you’ve had your say on Facebook—please address all replies to Jack, whose huge Retriever tongue will warmly and happily lick your cheek no matter what you say, enveloping you in his happy canine affection. Like Fred, Jack is a First Amendment advocate.—Fred W. Frailey

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