At 8:00 a.m., Phones rang at Jewish community centers across the country. When workers answered, they faced the frightening position of hearing someone issue a bomb threat. Understandably, people at the centers went into lock down until someone qualified could confirm that no one was at risk. Fortunately, everyone was physically okay, but nonetheless shaken up from the traumatic experience.
The location and date of this incident is not 1940s Germany, but rather 2017 America.
Birmingham’s Jewish Community Center, along with at least 19 others across 11 states, was threatened by an unknown individual who claimed there was a bomb on the premises. Although, the threat turned out to be false, such a violent threat towards any group of people is something we as Alabamians must not tolerate.
You would think what I’m writing is pretty straight forward: be nice to people and don’t threaten them with violence. But I’m not so sure that it is. While there are certainly folks out there trumping up claims of racial motivations, or flat out making-up violent encounters, there are indeed incidents in the current political climate that are all too real.
The United States Constitution protects the rights to free expression and to freely worship simultaneously. America’s founders so loved these freedoms that they placed them first in the package now known as the Bill of Rights. In this country, Jews can worship as freely as Christians, Muslims can express their belief as freely as those who choose not to believe in God, but all have the right to hold their values without being blown away.
The First Amendment Protects all kinds of speech. It protects speech that I agree with, such as the right of people to criticize the government or the right of organizations to advocate on behalf of policies they like. It also correctly protects expression I personally disagree with such as flag burning. Such speech is vital to the marketplace of ideas, and society, not the government, should decide which ideas are good and bad.
But the Amendment does not, and never has, protected direct incitement to violence. As far as ideology goes, I’m as small government guy. But even I know that government was created to protect people’s lives, liberty, and property – especially for those of us who are different from the majority.
As a student of history, I understand that Alabama has not always been the most welcoming of people who are different. We’re not perfect, but to say that the state is in the same of worse shape than it was during the era of George Wallace and Bull Connor is just dishonest. The people of Alabama are some of the most wonderful people I have ever met, and it is often a small, vocal minority that tarnishes the goodness of the whole.
But in the face of progress, Alabama took a step back with the bomb threats that have occurred not once, not twice, but three times against the same Birmingham Jewish center. America took a step back. We fought a war against Nazism and Fascism already; I’d rather not have to fight one at home, too.
For the vast majority of Alabamians who understand the difference between right and wrong, we cannot allow a small group to speak for us. In the words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
We can do better. We have to.