There are plenty of signs in our lives today.
Signs that tell us we should wear masks. Signs that tell us we have to wear masks.
There are plenty of signs about race, politics and competing visions for the country.
You also may have recently noticed or read about a man who stood outside a Walgreens in Easton with a very profane sign opposing COVID-19 mandates and comparing Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to Adolf Hitler.
Shaun Porter’s sign called Hogan a Nazi and hurled sexual vulgarities at the Republican governor. We wish the Frederick County resident had conveyed his argument without the offensive language exposed to local residents and holiday beachgoers — including families and children.
That probably made for some very interesting road trip conversations.
The Easton Police talked to Porter but since he was on public property his was within his First Amendment rights to offend his neighbors. The police rightly asked Porter to leave but rightly did not interfere with his constitutional rights.
The offensive nature of the sign certainly goes against being respectful of others, including children. We need a ton more respect for each other these days.
Still, we have to acknowledge the importance of free speech including uncomfortable dissenting views. Free speech is increasingly challenged by big technology and social media companies, government officials and politicians, schools and universities and even some in the media.
Those politically correct gatekeepers want to censor arguments (often from the right or alternative viewpoints) they deem not only wrong but dangerous. Dissenting views on COVID-19 and mask mandates as well as on all the protests and social unrest this year are increasingly threatened.
Workers and students with favored political views on issues such as race, diversity and the pandemic are afforded special privileges to promote their side while others are silenced.
That is a significant worry.
Last time we checked we are living in 2020 and not George Orwell’s “1984.” We do not have to agree with Mr. Porter’s sign, President Donald Trump’s tweets, the views of protesters or QAnon proponents. We can criticize and even condemn them as wrong or false.
But we should not advocate censoring them, which is too often the case. It creates a slippery slope of who and what ends up on the cutting room floor of ideas. Are Orwell’s ‘thought crimes’ just around the corner?
Freedom of speech is not always easy but the marketplace of ideas has been one of the things that has propelled America’s creativity, innovation and democracy. Like our country’s history and present, it is not perfect, not without flaws.
We hope Mr. Porter’s offensive sign will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience in Easton.
But more speech (including controversial tweets and offensive signs) is better than less speech.
We think Mr. Orwell would agree.