Much closer to home, 20 or so people held a protest on Saturday outside of Mulligan’s Food & Spirits on Roswell Street in Marietta, which usually draws a crowd heavy on bikers, blue-collar workers and a smattering of lawyers from the Cobb Courthouse. Those who choose to dine there will note the menu boasts “The Obama Special,” which fittingly consists of a piece of fried bologna on bread.
But the bar is better known for the provocative messages that for years have graced its sign out front, many of them along the lines of “ICE Agents Eat Free” and one mocking goofy U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney of DeKalb, “Cynthia — Call Your Proctologist. He’s Found Your Head.”
Most of them are politically pointed and some of them are in questionable taste. Saturday’s demonstration was prompted by a recent sign that read, “I Heard The White House Smelled Like Collard Greens And Fried Chicken.” It apparently was an attempt to resurrect the dated cliché about black people being overly fond of fried chicken, and was an apparent attempt to appeal to those who find stale slurs funny. Likewise was the time when the bar started selling T-shirts that read “Obama ’08” and featured a picture of cartoon chimpanzee Curious George peeling a banana.
The protest was organized by the Marietta-based New Order National Human Rights Organization, which hopes it will be able to dissuade the bar’s owners from continuing to put up such messages. Good luck with that one. Besides, we suspect that those who put up such messages and those who protest them have a symbiotic need for one another.
The bigger point is that this is America, and if the owner of a bar (or anyone else) wants to say or write or publish things that make other people uncomfortable or even angry, he none the less has the right to do so. He might have to weather a storm of criticism — or worse — but we should feel lucky to live in one of the few countries in the world where that right to speak is deeply embedded in our Constitution. (It might surprise readers to learn that our free-speech rights are much more protected than those of citizens of Canada or Great Britain, to cite just two examples.)
Moreover, the First Amendment is designed to protect not just the rights of the majority, for the majority usually has little to fear from speaking its mind. Rather, the Amendment also is designed to protect the rights of the minority and the speech of those with deeply unpopular views — those who might otherwise be easily intimidated by their peers or by government.
One of those protesting on Saturday complained to the MDJ reporter that, “I believe I have the right to drive down the open road without seeing derogatory signs about African Americans, Jews or whatever.”
Not so. We do not have that “right,” because the only way to enact it would be to impose rigorous government and self-censorship on all walks of life.
Americans have the right to speak their minds, just as the owners of Mulligan’s and the members of the New Order group are doing such a good job act. But Americans do not have a “right” not to be offended. Our courts have held repeatedly through the years that your right to self expression outweighs the considerations of those who might be annoyed or angered by those expressions. And that is as it should be.
Sometimes it takes a thick skin to be an American — but in the long run, it’s worth it.