The View From Here – Freedom of speech should not be limited to expressing conformist ideas only

by Tom Henihan

When the singer Remigio Pereira changed the lyrics of the Canadian national anthem while performing with The Tenors, at an MLB game in San Diego on July 12, the other group members clearly distanced themselves from his actions.

The Tenors suspended Pereira immediately, and other scheduled venues at which he was to perform with Toronto guitarist, Pavlo, dropped him.

Changing the lyrics to “We’re all brothers and sisters, all lives matter to the great” was not enough for Remigio Pereira as he also held up a card declaring “All lives matter,” which was seen a reproach of the movement “Black Lives Matter,” established in response the numerous fatalities of African-Americans at the hands of police.

It might be possible to give Pereira the benefit of the doubt and accept that he did not intend any affront to “Black Lives Matter” but brandishing the card clearly demonstrates he had issues, that his actions were calculated and at the very least in extremely poor taste.

While some might be flippant about “Black Lives Matter,” it is important to acknowledge the reality that African-Americans face when interacting with law enforcement, a reality with which white Americans do not have to contend.

Taken from the perspective of the parents of an African American teenager or young adult the anxiety a parent must feel about their son or daughter getting into mischief or committing a minor transgression are fraught with dire implications that can prove fatal. Consequently, the mantra “black lives matter,” needs constant reiteration until society addresses the issue and things change.

It is reckless and insensitive to make light of, or inflame the race issue in the US. However, the stance taken by the other members of The Tenors was over the top, blatantly self-serving, sycophantic and effuse, and I suspect has nothing to do with the issue that all or any lives matter, and everything to do with the careers of the Tenors.

“The Tenors are deeply sorry for the disrespectful and misguided lack of judgment by one member of the group acting as a ‘lone wolf,’” said a statement released by the Tenors.

“The other members of the group are shocked and embarrassed by the actions of Remigio Pereira, who changed the lyrics of our treasured anthem and used this coveted platform to serve his own political views.”

With phrases such as “acting as a lone wolf,” the language is more akin to describing an act of terror than someone acting in poor taste. It suggests that Pereira committed a diabolical act by changing the lyrics of our recently rewritten “treasured anthem” while using a “coveted platform.”

You have to ask which is worse, having a dubious political point of view or having no point of view at all, except in relation to the trajectory of one’s own career.

Though we talk of defending the right to free speech, we deal with those who exercise that right on the wrong sides of the consensus, with severity and dispatch.

Is Voltaire’s famous phrase “I disagree strongly with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” no longer germane to our concept of civil liberties or are we only willing to defend the rights of those with whom we agree.

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