Letters to the editor

Is all free speech not created equal?

In response to “A stretch for free speech?” that appeared in the Sept. 13 issue of Mountain Xpress, the irony of their position seems to escape those that opposed the award to Ms. Gordon. Statements like, “I don’t think all free speech is created equal” make me think of the final commandment in George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others.” But then again, perhaps Orwell’s work would be classified as the kind “that fosters intolerance and hate.”

Also ironic is the awards committee backing down after being confronted by those opposing their vote. Looks like those that pass out awards for free speech aren’t willing to stand up for their own exercise thereof.

— Charles Gibson
Black Mountain

Free-speech award is phony

This year, I nominated Helen Gordon for the Marketta Laurila Free Speech Award. In describing the activities that qualified Helen for the award, I said, “Helen Gordon stands up for the right of free speech in ways that promote social justice for pre-born children and self-determination for women by offering them encouragement, information and resources so they have a real choice not to kill their children.” This sidewalk-counseling activity, using a voice amplifier at Asheville’s abortion site, is what led to her arrest in March.

I welcome this opportunity in the Xpress to make a few points.

It is funny that “Lady Passion” (Dixie Deerman), a 1998 winner of the Laurila award, [was] reported in last week’s Xpress as saying that Helen used a bullhorn [Sept. 13, “A stretch for free speech?”]. She did not use a bullhorn, and if Lady Passion had ever been out to the abortion site, she would have known that. But some people assume the worst about us, because that confirms their prejudices. Even Judge Harrell, after convicting Helen in state district court, referred to her use of a “bullhorn” — since the state, for some reason, did not produce our speaker as evidence. (Incidentally, Helen’s Superior Court jury trial may come up in the last week of this month.)

We use a Peavey Solo, which is a 15-amp, battery-powered amplifier with about an eight-inch speaker. All of this is built into a small case. Also, we use a high-quality microphone. All in all, it is a nice, professional system that is far more consistent with the winsome communication that we wish to make than a bullhorn would be. We use a speaker not to blast down the walls or intimidate with volume, but rather so we can be heard at a conversational level and above the background noise coming from the interstate highway a block south.

I am grateful to those who voted for and supported giving Helen Gordon the award. To say that you believe in free speech means that you believe that justice and truth will win when we allow ideas to be tested and illuminated in the light of day. I was told that five members of the award committee resigned in protest after a closed meeting that followed the emergency meeting last week, and after the heavy-handed manipulation that rescinded the Laurila award. (Publicly, it remains a mystery why the award ceremony was canceled. I was told that the reason is that the people who were to put on the ceremony had left.)

The assertion by the committee about the eligibility requirements is not strictly true. Under the heading “Eligibility,” the announcement requesting nominations for year 2000 says, “Nominees shall be residents of Western North Carolina and shall have taken action toward defending their own or others right of free speech and persisted despite personal risk.” The part about “self-determination” is not listed as an eligibility requirement, but rather is under the heading of “Purpose.” Also, the award committee puts a narrow and perverse twist to the meaning of self-determination. I would not think that a general statement about the award’s purpose would be binding upon eligibility.

The Xpress reported that the Laurila award committee will meet in October to consider the meaning and future of their award. I would like to suggest that, if they want to continue the Laurila award, they should remove the words “free speech” from its title. My primary gripe about the award is and has been that the award sponsors and committee members wave a banner of free speech as if they themselves are the sole guardians and champions of free speech.

If there are any who would be willing to talk about beginning a true free-speech award for our community, I would not mind being a part of that project, and have several ideas for it.

I realize that if I were a part of such an award, some of the recipients may be involved in activity that I would consider evil. For example, I would reject the racism of a neo-Nazi group. But if a neo-Nazi person were arrested and then won a lawsuit which overturned the policy of the city of Asheville that prohibits people from leafleting at Bele Chere, for example, that would benefit all who value free speech. This dilemma only points out the limits of free speech. Pro-abortion people and I both agree that free speech is not an ultimate value, but it (plus freedom of the press) does allow us all to discuss, in public, our values and what is important to us. It also allows us all, within limits, to try to persuade.

Now to answer some of the other accusations of Lady Passion. In addition to her quote in last week’s Xpress that Helen Gordon uses a bullhorn, Passion was quoted as saying that Helen “fosters intolerance and hate” and uses derogatory language. The best response would be to let Helen speak for herself.

— Meredith Eugene Hunt
Life Advocates

Free-speech committee not truly promoting free speech

[Editor’s note: This letter was originally sent by Helen Gordon to the Marketta Laurila Free Speech Award Committee, after the committee revoked its original award to her and offered, instead, what they called a “Constitutional Challenge Award.”]

I cannot accept your Constitutional Challenge Award. I have never coveted any award, but to accept this would be a grievous compromise of truth.

You revoke your original offer of the Dr. Marketta Laurila Free Speech Award to me because [you say] my “opposition to reproductive freedom of choice does not promote self-determination for pregnant women.”

If we are going to deal with truly free speech, we must be honest about the true meanings of words. I do not oppose “reproductive freedom.” The mothers who come for abortion have already reproduced. Each carries a tiny boy or girl within her. When you speak of the “freedom of choice,” the necessary words to complete the true meaning of this phrase are never used. You are speaking of the freedom of a mother to choose to have her pre-born son or daughter put to death, which none of us has the right to do.

It is precisely this dishonest use of words that has been the greatest violator of the “social justice, racial harmony, community betterment and self-determination” that you say you espouse.

There is no justice for the child in the womb, no possibility of self-determination. Others decide that he or she must die. There is no justice for the mother, no real self-determination when alternatives to the death of her child are withheld from her — when the reality of the great physical and emotional and spiritual risk she takes in putting her child to death is kept from her. How is it just that those who would offer loving support to both mother and child are impeded from doing so?

Speech for the sake of speech has no innate value. Speech that confuses and deceives is destructive. It is the thirst for truth that ennobles our speech and makes the free use of our voice such a precious gift. It is not the speaking that makes us free, but the use of words that elevate and dignify our sacred humanity — words that glorify the God who created us in His image.

I refuse this award with no rancor but with great sadness that, as you continue to shun the truth, how deep the darkness becomes. I offer this refusal as the means God has given me to “speak the truth in love” to you. Speaking the truth, no matter how hard a truth it might be, is the only way to truly love one another. It is the only way to really be free.

— Helen Gordon

“We Still Pray” opponents ignorant of God’s righteousness

As the days pass, we read more increasingly how people are disturbed by the “We Still Pray” movement. Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind as to why such a movement became popular? It seems that once again, the believers in our Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are facing off against those who, as the apostle Paul said in Romans 10:3 are “ignorant of God’s righteousness and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.”

In a time when people are being urged by various media to raise their level of self-esteem, it seems they have forgotten the One who should be highly esteemed. (Read Job 23:12.) The Lord Jesus Himself said in Matthew 10:32 that “whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven.”

You see, whether or not one chooses to believe in the judgment of this world, will not stop the day of its arrival. It has been prophesied endlessly throughout the Bible and it will come to pass, as it is written. So the reader has a choice to make. One can lean on their own understanding and have no defense in the judgment, or one may acknowledge their sin (guiltiness) before God and turn away from wrongdoing and unbelief, and the Lord Jesus will be their defense in that day before God’s throne.

Public prayer to our Father in heaven is public confession of that Name and each person must be prepared to live the life and confess the Name that is above all names daily and in sincerity.

The rewards are not only in the world to come, but they are promised in this life as well. “If My people, which are called by My Name, shall humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (II Chronicles 7:14).

We support the “We Still Pray” campaign because it keeps the Lord Jesus Christ as the focus of attention, which is His rightful place. And whether allowed in public or not, an ongoing dialogue with our Father in heaven is going on in our minds right now. Some people call it conscience. The Bible says that “the Spirit Itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.”

As people who have sinned against God and repented (asked forgiveness) and now seek to live as believers in our Lord Jesus, we encourage each reader to explore what their spirit is a witness to.

— Kevin and Maria Hord

Death penalty proponents rely on Bible

During the last few months, area newspapers have carried a vast amount of correspondence concerned with capital punishment. I find particularly fascinating the almost universal reliance by writers professing to be Christians on Biblical citations to support whatever view the writers favor.

A few years ago, a newspaper in the area where I lived then published a local commentary by me under the heading “The use of capital punishment tends to cheapen life generally.” The considerable response that it elicited included [my receiving] materials from three radio/TV ministries on whose mailing lists my name was placed by some anonymous reader, presumably concerned for the welfare of my soul.

Bill Winston Ministries requested monthly pledges or one-time offerings, urging, “Please send the biggest gift possible, as I have no plans to go into debt for any work of God.”

Sheperd’s Chapel offered books, audio and video tapes, and computer programs for sale at prices ranging up to $600, and sent me two sample audio tapes titled “Mark of the Beast” and “Capital Punishment.” I have successfully resisted the urge to listen to them.

But, by far, the most educational material came from the Philadelphia Church of God. One of the items there, an article by J. Tim Thompson, explains clearly, with great numbers of Biblical quotations, how “the death penalty … when understood from God’s vantage point, is one of the greatest acts of love there can be toward society and the condemned criminal” (emphasis from the original). Moreover, “the authorities that exist (… man’s government and courts) are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists will bring judgment on themselves” and “our great God … understands human nature and tells us … that our natures are deceitful and desperately wicked.” Hence “to stop or delay the death penalty because the courts are afraid of making a mistake is a direct disobedience to God and his laws!”

The article’s closing benediction reads “How beautiful is the pure truth of the merciful God!”

— Seymour Meyerson

Celebrating Asheville’s fancy-free style

This is in response to the “Native costume” article [Sept. 6]. It gave me much more town pride to [read] that than to read Ukiah-naked-hippie rants in Rolling Stone. Although the styles of these streets aren’t just counterculture kids strutting their unique flairs for all to see, it’s more the vibe of fearlessness and comfortable expression we can create.

Since arriving in this city from a place ruled by Baptists, where I was the one lone so-called “freak,” I’ve found joy in being surrounded by soul family. How perfect, when a significant percentage of the community is part of the Unity movement. And even though it is reminiscent of the ’60s, the causes are new and different. The times have changed and always will.

The tourists can label us as they choose, but we’ll always have our re-evolution going on beyond definition other than art. Asheville seems to laugh at the concept that, in order to be considered gorgeous, you must own in-season stilettos and legs that reach up to your neck. And if visitors would like to come here and witness us in all our fancy-free glory, then so be it. Perhaps they’ll follow the example and trade in Abercrombie & Fitch cargo khakis for Goodwill’s previously appreciated, affordable fabrics.

And I don’t know much, but I know this lifestyle of conscious glee works (at least for me). I’ll openly welcome the carloads of joiners from across the country wanting to partake of the special sisterly/brotherly energy we share. Let’s rejoice in each moment with a smile. Because once you take away the artificiality of clothing, an honest smile is all that remains and all that really ever mattered.

— Laura Willhide

Don’t mess with genetic engineering, Mr. Kaufman

Genes and DNA, the stuff that life comes from. Every living creature’s personal history, going back to the beginning of time. To Wallace Kaufman’s surprise, some of us consider this pretty serious stuff to be messing about with [Xpress, Sept. 12, “Drop the environmental ideology”]. Not to mention the fact that the “messers about” are the types of people whom history tells us are not always reliable or honest about their research or true motives. Remember, these people dam the rivers, tame the atoms, and are still trying to convince us that global warming is nothing to worry about.

Mr. Kaufman’s stereotyping and sarcastic response to true environmentalists does nothing to further the respectful exchange of ideas and points of view. True environmentalists are just as concerned with the plight of the world’s hungry as they are with the condition of our shared environment.

Hunger on this planet is not a result of poor food production. Hunger of the physical kind is a result of overpopulation and social tyranny. Mega-national corporate entities wait like vultures, with their short-sighted — but profitable — solutions. They tilt at symptoms — oblivious of or afraid to address the heart of the problem.

The heart of the problem? Hunger of the spiritual kind. When we learn to live together, in harmony with our Earth Mother and all the other living creatures — and the rocks, the grass, the water and the air we all breathe — we won’t need to have idiotic discourses about genetic engineering and the pros and cons of tearing up living trees to be used for cheap, disposable office furniture for the Mega Guys from who knows where.

So, let’s get real. Cut the bulls**t. OK?

— Ted Wilcox
Sandy Mush

Why were cyclists “keyed” in Erwin Hills?

Sunday morning, Aug. 26, seven of Asheville’s elite cyclists met in the Ingles parking lot in Erwin Hills on Leicester Highway. This is a common rendezvous point for many cyclists who choose to ride out from the Leicester area toward Sandy Mush and Hot Springs. The cyclists had met there many times over the past several months, and parked away from the store entrance near the road at the far end of the lot.

This Sunday morning, apparently, someone saw the cyclists preparing to leave at 8:15 a.m. that cool, misty mountain morning. After the cyclists left, this person pulled up next to the cyclists’ motor vehicles and proceeded to “key” four of the vehicles. This wasn’t a random scrape of the paint, but a vicious, deep cut into the paint down to the metal and completely around the car on all panels. This criminal act was carried out in broad daylight, in the parking lot of a local community landmark. …

The cyclists had done nothing to inflame a motorist or local resident. The perpetrator might have had a grudge against cyclists from some previous encounter, or it could have been a random act of senseless vandalism (though I don’t think so).

These cyclists enjoy the freedom of access to the mountainous roads that wander through our beautiful community. They are long-term residents of Asheville, and have been prominent members of our community in many ways. They have led the cycling club in its quest to safely share the road with the motorists. They have been instrumental in teaching cyclists to respect the local residents’ property while traveling in our region. They have been alert to community activities and are active participants in the community-watch philosophy of watching out for others in this hectic world. They would never act in a way to irritate someone to the point of anger or vengeful aggression that would result in such a senseless, wicked act of vandalism.

The members of the Asheville Bicycle Racing Club will continue to promote safety in all club group rides and encourage all of the 90 members of the club to set a good example by being courteous when on the highways. We just wish the motorists could do the same with their respect toward the cyclists’ utilization of the Carolina highways. We hope the communities of Erwin Hills and Leicester will help these frequent [users] of the community roads in bringing this criminal to justice.

Community members of Erwin Hills and Leicester should report any information to the police that could lead to the discovery of the person that did this cowardly act of disrespect against other … community residents.

— Jim McMillan
Member, Board of Directors of Asheville Bicycle Racing Club

Kaufman’s electricity analogy falls flat

It’s interesting to me to note that both Wallace Kaufman [Xpress, Sept. 12, “Drop the environmental ideology”] and Eric Ward, president of Novartis, a multinational biotech corporation [Delicious, September 2000], refer to electricity as being equivalent to genetically modified organisms, when, in fact, nuclear power would make a better comparison.

Electricity occurs naturally in the environment; humans merely harness it. Harnessing the power in the nucleus of an atom, on the other hand, requires intense manipulation on the part of humans. If ever there was a technology introduced blindly into the world — without regard for the possible consequences, or the irreversibility of those consequences — then it would surely be nuclear technology.

If we take Kaufman’s sentence — “We have no more reason to ban genetically modified crops than to ban electricity and radio waves” — and substitute “nuclear power” for “electricity and radio waves,” then the short-sighted nature of his argument is apparent.

It would be lovely to think that huge biotech corporations like Monsanto, DuPont and Novartis — however misguided — are motivated by concern for the poor, not greed. But “concern for the poor” was the reason given for the massive promotion of infant formula in the Third World, which — as has been well documented — reaped huge profits for formula manufacturers by “taking away life itself” from poor infants.

And, oh, yes, isn’t Novartis a formula manufacturer?

— Barbara Taggart

Don’t let corporate greed ruin our mountain legacy

Like watching a loved one become slowly consumed by cancer, others and I have witnessed (and continue to witness) the gradual, painful corporatization of south Asheville (Arden). Where there once were wooded trails now [lie] parking lots and fast-food restaurants. Trees have been replaced with expanding shopping centers and acres and acres of sprawl. Priority lives with cheapness and convenience, at the cost of green space and local businesses.

And now the crown jewel of corporate control, a Super Wal-Mart complex, is sketched in ink for the Gerber site in Arden.

This site and the Sayles site serve as emblems of this kind of deculturization. By allowing the suffocation of regional livelihood to give life and liberty to corporate empires, we forfeit our voice as concerned citizens that can enact change. If communities become desensitized to the intrusions of corporate interests, their potential for influence becomes sterile.

Concern for the community is just the beginning, rooted in a group of concerned citizens. Change and resistance within a community occurs when the entire community presses for change and reform whenever and wherever possible.

In living the heartache of Arden, let us not forget what being a citizen of the mountains means — who it makes us. Let us not forget how being a citizen of the mountains has changed us, what it has taught us about sustainable thinking.

And above all, [let’s not forget] what it has taught us about responsible action.

— Summer Starling

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