Eric Douglas: Tolerance works both ways -- the First Amendment

Eric Douglas sig

Two recent news stories really bothered me.

First was one you probably heard about. Ellen Degeneres attended an NFL football game and was sitting beside (gasp!) President George W. Bush. Even more shocking – they were laughing and having a good time. OK, that’s NOT the story that bothered me.

What did bother me was the tremendous backlash of people saying Ellen shouldn’t be seen in public with George. I mean, people were losing their minds over this.

Ellen’s response was perfect. She called all those people out and told them they were wrong.

Before my conservative friends start saying “Yeah, the Left isn’t very tolerant” (which is true), let me get to the second story.

A Latin American author was speaking at Georgia Southern University. Her book and her talk were about White Privilege – the concept that whites have more doors open to them than people from other races.

Again, not what upset me. What blew my mind was that some of the students who disagreed with her decided it was a smart idea to BURN her book.

In a slightly ironic twist, that meant they purchased her book before they burned it. So, she got royalties from that.

Still, that’s a horrible thing to do. This is one of those “If you forget history, you are doomed to repeat it” moments. I’m sure no one wants book burning to become a thing again — especially when it is aimed at a minority group.

A related third story would be the appearance by Orson Scott Card at the West Virginia Book Festival. Don’t like his stance? Fine. Want to protest? By all means. But abstaining from the entire event just because you don’t like one speaker? That only hurts the event.

There is a lot of debate about the U.S. Constitution. Often it seems like people want to cherry-pick parts of it that support their own beliefs and ignore parts they don’t like. In fairness, this is true about a lot of things.

Much of the Constitution is vague and open to interpretation. That includes the Bill of Rights. It’s up to Congress to pass laws that clarify those meanings and the U.S. Supreme Court to decide if those laws agree with the Constitution. (The president, or executive branch, is there to enforce those laws.)

For me, the First Amendment to the Constitution is what makes the United States special – specifically, the right to free speech. It says:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Yes, I know that says “Congress shall make no law” and in none of the cases I mentioned above was a law passed that would infringe on someone’s freedom of speech. But, if we can’t accept other people’s right to say what they want, even if we disagree with it, then we are in serious trouble. That violates the spirit of the First Amendment, if not the letter.

Eric Douglas, of Pinch, is the author of “Return to Cayman,” “Heart of the Maya,” “Cayman Cowboys,” “River Town” and other novels. He is also a columnist for Scuba Diving Magazine and a former Charleston Newspapers Metro staff writer. For more information, visit or contact him at


DeBoard, Dorthey - 1 p.m., Sunset Cemetery, Bickmore.

Haynes, Donald - 11 a.m., Long & Fisher Funeral Home, Sissonville.

Holliday, Dottie - Noon, Wallace & Wallace Chapel, Rainelle.

Holstine, Rosa - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

McNeely, Minnie - 1 p.m., Leonard Johnson Funeral Home, Marmet.

Meade, Janet - Noon, Akers-James Funeral Home, Logan.

Pickens, Selbert - 2 p.m., Keller Funeral Home, Dunbar.

Prince, Evelyn - 1 p.m., O'Dell Funeral Home, Montgomery.

Rapp, John, Sr. - 11 a.m., Waters Funeral Chapel, Summersville.

Serls, Ralph - 1 p.m., Barlow Bonsall Funeral Home, Charleston.