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Opinion

Government involvement in un-naming the Redskins is 'patently' dangerous

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Opinion,NFL,Redskins,Op-Eds,First Amendment,Freedom of Speech,Freedom of Religion,Native Americans,Patent Law

Now that the federal government via the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is officially -- and not just verbally -- inserting itself into the ongoing debate about the Washington Redskins' chosen mascot name and emblems, a decent respect for the opinions of sports fans, moral busybodies, and gadflies everywhere suggests that we give appropriate consideration to what other teams should be penalized for their nominal insensitivity.

We’re not talking about just the obvious, lingering offenders: the Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, Chicago Blackhawks, Golden State Warriors and Edmonton Eskimos.

Should our culture be tacitly endorsing the violence implied by the noms de guerre of the Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Los Angeles Clippers?

Can we really abide the political insinuations of the Ottawa Senators, Sacramento and Los Angeles Kings, Kansas City Royals, New England Patriots, and Cincinnati Reds?

Should we ignore the casual bigotry of the Vancouver Canucks and the Milwaukee Bucks? The unfortunate spelling of the Montreal Canadiens?

Surely the ever-vigilant folks at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals must have some concerns about the Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles (endangered species), or the Denver Broncos and Miami Marlins (abused by cowboys and fishermen).

Aren’t the San Francisco Giants offending smaller people? Should the NBA hoi polloi have to put up with Cleveland’s Cavalier attitude? Must Georgia pacifists be forced to abide those Atlanta Hawks?

And, of course — inevitably — we must purge the religious fundamentalism that overshadows the play of the San Diego Padres, Anaheim Angels, and New Orleans Saints — not to mention the subtle Catholicism of the Arizona and St. Louis Cardinals.

Will the embarrassments never end? No, they won’t. Jane Austen herself would willingly affirm that while sensibility is available in ever-diminishing quantities, we will always have a surfeit of (non)sense — especially among those eager to take offense.

Which is not to say that it is beyond the pale for those who choose to be offended by the Washington Redskins’ chosen mascot to express their dismay and disapproval.

They are and should be entitled to picket, to boycott, to opine via “boo” and byline. They can quote for the cameras and inundate switchboards and mail their cards and letters and fire off their texts and tweets.

They may, in short, do everything within their legal rights and the democratic process to make their opinions widely heard.

What they cannot do is make those opinions widely felt, or widely shared. Nor can they make them narrowly embraced by the owner of the Washington professional football team without treading on his own, equally legal and democratic freedoms.

That, at least, was the beauty of the American system until last week when the current U.S. government took upon itself the right to force-feed its collective opinion to Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder.

The implications of the Patent Office’s substantial stretch of its previous authority are considerably more ominous for American freedom than they are for the financial empire of Mr. Snyder.

What other free speech issues will the government tackle? What other words will it declare offsides? And what will be the penalty when government officials throw their various departmental and bureaucratic flags on wordplay?

Suppose, for an instance, a church persists in teaching the biblical (and now anti-federal) position that homosexual behavior is a sin. Will the government take away that church’s tax-exempt status?

It’s a huge step for agents of the state, on any subject, to move from "we disagree with you, citizen" to "we forbid you, citizen." To go from, "you shouldn’t say that" to "you can’t say that — or else."

On the other hand, it’s a very small step from "you can’t say that" to "you can’t think that—or else." And history shows that governments — including perhaps our own — that are granted the first power move inexorably toward the second.

As the wise soul said, “Any government big enough to give you whatever you want is big enough to take away everything you have.”

In other words, let those rejoicing in the Patent Office’s assault on the Redskins take note: Officials of the state will have no reservations about turning on their own tribe, when the time comes.

Former federal prosecutor Alan Sears held various posts in the departments of Justice and Interior during the Reagan Administration. He is president and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom.


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