Our Opinion: Rallies distasteful, but so is censorship
Having the right to do something doesn't mean it's right to do it.
That's why we are joining Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler in asking the organizers of two upcoming public demonstrations to put their plans on hold.
The first, slated for Sunday, June 4, is billed as a Trump Free Speech Rally aimed at "exercising free speech" in "one of the most liberal areas on the West Coast." The second, more-disturbing, event is a March Against Sharia on Saturday, June 10.
Both events were planned before the sickening attack last Friday in which two men on a MAX train were killed after coming to the aid of two young women, one of whom wore a Muslim hijab, who was being verbally attacked by Jeremy Joseph Christian.
Alt-right organizers for the June 4 pro-Trump rally have tried to distance themselves from Christian, though he attended their previous "free-speech" rally earlier this spring. But any event supporting our president is ill-timed, given his past anti-Muslim statements and the three days it took him to issue a tepid condemnation of last week's fatal attack.
The June 10 event is one of 22 nationwide being organized by ACT for America, which cloaks anti-Muslim sentiments in a purported concern about Muslim women's rights. Even if the group was truly interested in drawing a distinction between Muslims who twist a part of Islamic tradition to justify violence and the vast majority of the peaceful practitioners of that faith, doing so would be nearly impossible in Portland's highly charged political climate right now.
There's nothing organizers can do to unlink the planned public events to Christian's actions, so for the good of the community — as well as their own political messages — they should call off the events.
If, however, they choose to go forward, the city must ensure everyone's safety without standing in the way of constitutionally protected speech.
That's why we were troubled by Wheeler's announcement on Monday that he'd asked the federal government to revoke the permit for the June 4 event and deny a permit for the June 10 event. (Both events are planned for the federally owned Terry Schrunk Plaza downtown.)
We understand his motivation, but believe he's on shaky constitutional grounds.
Yes, the murders on the MAX were horrific, particularly because the men killed were defending two young women from ugly, bigoted verbal assault.
But that doesn't justify using political influence to try and deny permits for people to express their opinions, even unpopular opinions, without proof that doing so poses an imminent threat of harm. And, despite violence at past events put on by the organizers of the June 4 rally, Wheeler did not on Monday offer any evidence that public safety was an issue.
Wheeler has every right to ask organizers of the permitted marches to reschedule them — and we strongly concur with his request.
But if they don't, absent any proof of threat, they must be allowed to continue and any hateful rhetoric espoused should be matched — and overmatched — with a peaceful, clear, response that Portland will not stand for bigotry (or censorship).