Two events in recent weeks revealed that freedom of speech and expression are alive and well in America.

ALBANY, N.Y. A man was arrested at a shopping mall for refusing to remove his “Give Peace a Chance” T-shirt. Stephen Downs, 61, had purchased the shirt at the mall but was later confronted my mall security guards who told him to remove the garment. Citing his freedom of speech, Downs refused and was later escorted from the mall by local police and charged with trespassing.

This event drew outrage and prompted a peaceful “walk-through” protest at the mall by at least 100 people demanding the charges be dropped. The protest and the unwanted national scrutiny prompted mall management to drop the charges.

LA HABRA, Calif. A flag-draped memorial honoring the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks was defaced by anti-war protesters who destroyed 87 American flags at the site. Local police refused at first to investigate saying the protests were a form of political speech.

The story went national and the police finally opened an investigation. The makeshift memorial, which is located along a neighborhood fence, has now become a local tourist attraction and has drawn volunteers from across southern California offering to make repairs. As of this week, the memorial is draped with at least 200 American flags.

These two stories are a fine illustration showing that every action has an opposite reaction sometimes greater than the original action. The security guard in New York was wrong to harass a customer because of his politics. An anti-war T-shirt does not represent an obscenity. Expressing an opinion contrary to that of someone else forms the basis for freedom of speech in America.

Likewise, the people who built the memorial in southern California had every right to express their feelings. Destruction of this display was not a form of protected free speech, it was simply vandalism.

Freedom of speech and expression are often greeted by actions coming from the worst elements in our society. In the end, however, it is those with true sincerity in their beliefs who persevere in the end.

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