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John Hancock did not hide behind a fake screen name
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That's the best way to describe those who hide behind pseudonyms on the Internet to exercise their free speech rights to attack others for their political viewpoints.

Actually, "cowards" is to way too nice. Hypocrites or parasites might be more appropriate.

Harsh words? We recently the Fourth of July. Two hundred and thirty-eight years ago 56 men signed their death warrants at the bottom of the piece of paper that starts with the words, "We the people. . ."

John Hancock didn't sign his name "crimeriddendump" on the bottom of the Declaration of Independence. He signed his real name. And he did it in big, bold letters. He didn't hide behind a screen name while speaking out.

Yes, the Bill of Rights assures that you can operate in most cases anonymously. It's a free country. But if you don't think it is an act of a coward to use a fake name to attack someone who has the courage to state a political opinion while using their real name you need to give some serious thought to what we as a nation are celebrating today.

Anonymous political attacks aren't debate. They are a form of intimidation.

The Internet would both amaze and dismay men like Thomas Jefferson.

On one hand it has spread political discourse like wildfire not just across this nation but the globe as well. At the same time it has also put a tool of mass political intimidation into the hands of those who want to silence those who don't hold the same values that they do.

A prime example is a trend toward anonymous sites posting the names of those who have given to political causes or ballot measures that someone opposes. Those who exercised their rights to advance a political cause by giving donations of $100 or more to Proposition 8 in California had their names repeatedly circulated on the Internet and pressure brought against their employers to have them dismissed. They even posted the donors' addresses and encouraged those who didn't like the position they took to essentially show up in front of their homes and harass them.

The responsible parties for the mass distribution of donors' names didn't list their names or their addresses. Instead they "hid" behind a website with a name that was not their own to chill political speech.

Of course, the end justifies the means for those who believe the Constitution and Bill of Rights exists only for politically correct speech which, by definition, is only speech they agree with.

Benjamin Franklin - an idea man as well as a renaissance man - would be astounded to see what lengths some will go to squash political speech that they dislike.

This past graduation season dozens of colleges withdrew invitations for commencement speakers because some graduating seniors didn't like the politics of the speaker. Thomas Jefferson himself wouldn't be welcome on some commencement podiums for his flaws not of which the least of was ownership of slaves no matter how benevolent he was.

At least in their bid to silence what they perceive personally as unacceptable speech at a graduation ceremony the graduating seniors signed their own names to petitions.

Our rights are only as strong as the rights of those who are in the minority.
If we chip away at the rights of the accused, we erode our own rights at the same time.

If we undermine and chill the free speech of others, we do the same to our own free speech rights.

If we try to eliminate religious rights we have created a justification for government to eliminate non-religious rights.

Every action has a potential equal opposite reaction.

If you can find constitutional grounds for the government to ban all abortion then the same legal premise gives the government the power to force abortions.

Government by and for the people is not in absolutes. It is a balancing act where rights are often tempered in degrees so we can interact and function as a civilized society. No rights are absolute. That's why every issue based on premises such as freedom of religion or human conception rights don't mirror exactly previous court rulings. It is why you can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater.

The circumstance in which the freedom is being exercised or government power is being used is important. It is not a one-size- fits-all in a nation that supposedly cherishes the rights of individuals.

Those that try to chill political speech they disagree with are exercising their rights. It certainly isn't an absolute right.

By operating in shrouded secrecy behind fake screen names when they go on the attack they make it clear that they are not patriots.

Those who cherish the freedom we enjoy in this country can't do so with long-term certainty if they don't cherish the rights of others.

That means we can ill afford to live in a society where the government knocks on your door and seizes property and detains individuals without cause or warrant. Nor can we survive for long if individuals opt to exercise their rights to speech in the darkness instead of in the light of the proverbial public square.

John Hancock understood that well with his oversized signature on the document that gave birth to the great experiment in freedom we celebrated earlier this month.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.