Whenever one happened by our neighborhood grocery store all summer, parked there in the outlying area that employees use was a pickup truck decorated with stickers of the Confederate battle flag and captioned with the friendly reminder that “If this offends you, you need a history lesson”.  Now, I’m not sure that the stickers offended me, exactly—“annoyed” seems the more appropriate verb—since, having earned somewhere north of 125 college credit hours in history, I’m certain that said stickers were not directed at me, as I’m sure the owner of the truck would agree if he were informed of the fact. 

But, yes, I suppose I was offended by somebody suggesting that people who disagreed with this history expert on his interpretation of what has become more of a political issue than a historical one.  And this in a Union state, so don’t tell me that our young Herodotus was simply celebrating his heritage.

Apparently the store manager and/or owner did need a history lesson, though, or at least a critical mass of customers did, though, for said truck has been gone for several weeks.  Doubtless the store told its employee either to find another ride or to take his talents to the other grocery store.  I’ll admit, perhaps a bit grudgingly, that freedom of speech as interpreted in the United States allows the display of the Stars and Bars, probably even a swastika (which a neighborhood house is coming very close to, but that’s for later).  And the owners of the store have every right to dismiss an employee who exercises their free speech at their place of employment.  As do citizens/customers have the right to organize boycotts or buycotts for firms based on their politics.

And then there has arisen yet another dilemma for the American Civil Liberties Union.  The organization’s free speech absolutism has tried their membership and sympathizers before, and last summer’s white supremacist rally-cum-street fight in Charlottesville, Virginia, which the ACLU facilitated in court, eventuated in many angry resignations and donor boycotts.  This has happened before, most notably in the seventies when a Nazi group used ACLU legal muscle to organize a march to taunt the Jews of Skokie, Illinois.  The resulting furor was ameliorated by the fact that the march was something of a fizzle; few spectators showed up and even fewer marchers.  Of course, that didn’t happen in Charlottesville, and at least for now, a large chunk of the ACLU hierarchy finds itself split. 

We need to remember that not all nations, not even all nations which we think of as free, define free speech in the same way.  Germany and Austria, to name two, ban display of the swastika and certain types of plain, flat-out speech (as in “written or spoken words”).  I’d hate to see it come to this in the United States.  I also hate living a few blocks from somebody who thinks it’s pretty cool to fly a World War II Kriegsmarine flag.