Frank Talk About Free Speech

Attorney Victor Diaz chats up the ACLU's Howard Simon

The commission majority -- and possibly a majority of county residents -- may favor censoring arts organizations by prohibiting the spending of county dollars on what is politically incorrect in Miami-Dade County. But, and here's the rub, there are limits on the power that even a large majority can wield.

Government "may not prohibit the expression of an idea because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable." That, the U.S. Supreme Court has said, is the bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment. It is also hypocritical to impose censorship in Miami under the guise of fighting repression in Cuba.

MULLIN: Victor, you've voiced two basic concerns regarding efforts to challenge the county's Cuba ordinance: that this is not the right time, and that there needs to be more discussion before people make up their minds. Let's start with the latter.

In 1992 county commissioners passed their first anti-Cuba ordinance. In 1993 they strengthened that law. In 1996 they greatly expanded the law to cover cultural affairs and to require an affidavit. And in February of this year they tightened the law once again by requiring that the affidavit be signed in advance. Each time this issue came up, the pros and cons were debated in the open and covered in the media. And each time proponents of the anti-Cuba measures prevailed. How would you respond to those who say there's already been substantial discussion, the responsibility for understanding has already been met, we've already listened to both sides?

DIAZ: I don't think anywhere near the vigorous discussion taking place in this community now has ever taken place regarding this issue. Anyone who lives in the city can probably tell that the level of discourse now is much greater than it's been any time since 1992. What I was trying to address is that it seems to me there has been an effort to get individual organizations and civic groups to take a position on this issue at this time, taking votes. I think those groups should consider that this is an issue that is now being litigated in the courts, that there are some fundamental constitutional questions that need to be decided, and that the resolution of those constitutional questions by the United States Supreme Court may moot substantial parts of this discussion.

So I agree with Judge Moreno, who said we should preserve the status quo until the Supreme Court rules. However, if people want to proceed to a vote on these issues -- and they certainly have a right to do so -- then I think they should try to listen to both points of view. To accept this thesis that because an issue has been discussed once in a community many years ago, that individual people sitting in a deliberative body really have heard both points of view and really understand both points of view -- I think that is oversimplification.

And the other day when we were both together, Howard and I, at the Production Industry Council meeting at the City of Miami Beach, I heard people say, "I learned some things that I did not know." I think we both have an interest in seeing that happen because I think there probably is more common ground on some of these issues than the way it's being portrayed now. And I am afraid that too many people are making up their minds on the Cuba ordinance based on their sentiments, their highly emotional sentiments on both sides about what's going on in this community, as opposed to truly understanding the law, how it operates, the legal issues.

MULLIN: Why do you think this is the wrong time to be raising opposing views? Why not now? Why not lay out everything on the table for discussion?

DIAZ: I don't think there's anything wrong with laying out everything on the table for discussion. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. I think we have to understand that how we do it is going to affect the reaction to it. I think we would be better served by waiting for the United States Supreme Court to define the constitutional issues, the supremacy-clause issue, the First Amendment issues. But even if people don't want to wait to see what the courts do, there's nothing wrong with people debating it. But I think every group that takes up this issue should make a conscientious effort, bend over backward to make sure they have an inclusive process that allows all points of view to be expressed before they arrive at an ultimate conclusion.

SIMON: I actually think on this issue I may agree with Victor. I don't know that there has been a lot of public dialogue and discussion on this thing because I think there's been too much orthodoxy on the subject. And in fact I think there've been forces that have repressed public discussion on this matter. I don't know how much discussion took place at the county commission during all those years when they adopted the ordinance, and whether they had public hearings or not. But I do know there have been efforts to avoid public discussion on this.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Miami Concert Tickets