Gosh! According to Mr. Elias Serna (“Mencia offensive and Klein evasive,” page 4, April 23) — and he managed to get all of this into one short opinion piece — I’m a “dishonest pedant,” “arrogant,” “empty,” “selfish,” “glaringly dishonest,” “evasive,” “patronizing,” a “know-it-all Anglo,” “shameless and greedy,” “self-centered and manipulative,” have a conflict of interest, throw around titles, and I would have people believe that lawyers are infallible, always fair and above critique.
And, best of all, according to him, I am a “racist” and not just a racist, but a “have a nice day” racist!
Hmmm. Didn’t he forget “sleazy” and “without redeeming moral virtues of any sort?”
And all this is directed against me because I stand up for the First Amendment? Because I defend the right of a person who is, by the way, himself of Hispanic origins, to speak as protected by the Bill of Rights?
There were no insults in my piece. I just discussed First Amendment issues. I have no interest in insulting Mr. Serna or anyone else.
However, in some ways, I actually like the fact that Mr. Serna called me all these horrible — and untrue — things!
Why? Because without intending to do so, he just demonstrated how and why the First Amendment works.
I haven’t used any “hate” words and I don’t think my speech in the pages of the Daily Press or otherwise could be criticized on even the most rigorous “hate speech” grounds.
But Mr. Serna used words that some might call “hate speech.” He even used a racial slur, calling me not just a “know-it-all,” but a “know-it-all Anglo.” Can you imagine what he would say if I had used a similarly derisive racially-tinged term?
Am I suggesting that Mr. Serna shouldn’t be allowed to say all these nasty things about me or that there should be a law against such “hate speech?” No! Just the opposite!
In my view, as a First Amendment advocate, that would be the worst thing in the world! In my view, Mr. Serna has a legally protected constitutional right to say all those things about me, even though they are negative and untrue and even though he used a racial slur. In fact, as a proponent of the First Amendment, I would defend his right to say all those things about me!
Instead of hate speech legislation or any form of censorship, the First Amendment suggests that people can read what we both wrote and draw their own conclusions. The remedy is not to limit speech, it is more speech!
So, unlike Mr. Serna, who enlisted the powers of the government to stop the speech of comedian Carlos Mencia, I believe that government must allow speech, even speech with which we disagree. That is the point of the First Amendment!
Having said all that, the First Amendment is not served by false information, so in service of both accuracy and First Amendment goals, I should correct factual errors made by Mr. Serna:
1. I’m not a member of the Edison PTA. I don’t even have children at Edison.
Thus it is simply a false statement to say that I have a “vested interest in their fundraising.” The only vested interest I have in their fundraising is as a caring citizen. I like to see them have more money for the good work that they do as Santa Monica’s only dual language academy.
2. Similarly, I have no involvement in the school district or its policy decisions. Thus, I was not involved in and cannot be blamed for the selection of speakers for the Mencia panel discussion, but if I had been involved, I most certainly would have thought that Mr. Serna’s inclusion would have been critical. In fact, I remember wondering why he wasn’t there.
3. Neither I nor anyone I know has threatened to sue the district.
4. Section 415 of the Penal Code (not the Building Code) doesn’t say what Mr. Serna says and wouldn’t be applicable here anyway.
One last thing. I really don’t mind Mr. Serna calling me all those names. But I am concerned, that when he so readily throws around words like “racist,” he is diluting the power of that important term when it’s used against real racists like the KKK or skinheads.
Speaking as someone who has spent much of my life fighting against racism and hatred, if Mr. Serna is going to call me a racist for defending the First Amendment rights of an Hispanic comedian to speak, what is he going to do when somebody is really racist?
And will anybody listen to him if he has devalued the term?
I would urge him to save that stuff for those times when it is really needed — and not to try to make enemies out of friends.
Michael S. Klein is a senior partner with the law firm of Klein & Weisz in Santa Monica. A graduate of Yale Law School, he has spoken and written extensively on issues, including copyright, First Amendment law and contracts in the entertainment and business arenas. He is on the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and chairs its First Amendment Committee.