You have the right to cut off your left arm and shove it up your chimney, but that doesn’t mean it is a smart thing to do. Civil and human rights are the foundation of modern civilization. I think the Bill of Rights is a great national achievement and I’m a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International. Yet the issue of rights is sometimes used as a cover for wrongs. Those who defend the hate-radio programs of G. Gordon Liddy, Ken Hamblin and others of their ilk contend that private efforts to silence that hate speech constitute an abridgement of their freedom of speech. Those who appeal to the decency or civic duty of station managers to cancel hate-radio and those who boycott hate-radio sponsors are portrayed as trashers of the Constitution.
But just because someone has a right to broadcast and a business has a right to sponsor hate-radio does not mean it is a smart thing to do. Surely listeners have a right to tell station managers that they are tuning out and inform sponsors that they will not support businesses whose revenues support hate-radio. Ken Hamblin regularly uses racist epithets to describe people and belittles those who disagree with him. Recently he attacked people who receive welfare using adjectives like “dark,” “dirty” and “hairy” and claimed that African Americans were incapable of serving American cities as decent mayors. It does not seem unreasonable to me, or an abridgement of anyone’s constitutional rights, for African Americans to inform Shoppers World or Temple Luggage that they do not appreciate the sponsors’ support of Ken Hamblin and their association with his message of hatred and contempt by the presence of their ads during his program. As Jews we must object to such programs because it undermines our efforts to build a just, caring, decent society. Moreover, much of what is behind the rising wave of right-wing hate-radio is anti-semitism. Even when Jews are not the direct targets, we must object. As a multi-racial people, we must feel that any racist attack is a direct attack. We know that the causes of racism and ethnic hatred are very much the same as those of anti-semitism; even more, the cure is much the same.
It has been observed that whereas Western Civilization speaks in terms of rights, the Torah commands us in terms of obligation. Our Torah does not so much say a wronged person has a right to justice; rather, the Torah speaks of an obligation of others to act justly. It is supply-side justice. It is more than semantic; it describes the organizing principle of society. Hate radio violates several Torah precepts. It places a “stumbling block before the blind” by leading some to hate others or to “shoot to kill” Federal agents (in the words of G. Gordon Liddy). It creates enmity between people, which is forbidden by the mitzvot of “you shall not hate your neighbor in your heart” and “you shall not vex your neighbor” along with several other specific mitzvot. It discourages people from fulfilling their mitzvot of tzedaqa, of loving others, of being kind to others. It teaches disrespect for God’s creation. I therefore must speak not of a right to free speech (which I uphold), but of our obligation to object.
© Jon-Jay Tilsen 1995