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The Mighty Pen
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To Write Is But A Thought Crime

By James Donahue

This life-long writer finds himself ultra sensitive to stories that infringe on our First Amendment rights to free speech and expression, whether it comes from a soapbox on the main corner of town, or from the pen.

After last year's shootings at Virginia Tech, and after all the media hype about the "disturbing" plays produced by the shooter in a creative writing class prior to his rampage, we should not have been surprised that some people might over-react to strong material penned by students in other schools.

We should also expect students in other schools to be tempted to write "disturbing" material, not only to use the shock value to capture someone's attention, but to be copycats or even to express a personal frustration at being a teen caught in a world controlled by blind fools that fail to love or care

When Allen Lee, an 18-year-old Chicago student turned in a strong and expressive paper in a creative writing class at Cary-Grove High School, his teacher decided it was "disturbing" and called the police.

The Chicago Tribune said this straight-A student was charged with disorderly conduct and taken before a judge. The charge carries a penalty of up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,500. We don't know the outcome of this case, but we suspect that if it was a first offense, the youth was given a probationary term, perhaps scolded by the court, and sent on his way. It also is possible that he pleaded innocent and forced the court to stage a trial. In that case we sincerely believe an agency like the ACLU could get involved and he will beat such a fallacious rap.

No matter the outcome, the fact that school authorities and the police collaborated in this business and dragged a young boy off to court because of a thought crime is frightening. Is the American system collapsing so fast under the insane and seemingly criminal behavior of the Bush Administration that the concept of thought crimes is becoming reality?

Even more frightening is the question now facing all writers in America. Do we dare express ourselves as permitted under the First Amendment. Can a letter, essay, poem or e-mail penned in anger, or due to frustration about political injustice, be used to find us guilty of thinking a thought crime against another person, a government, or organization? Are we not on the verge of suppressing free expression of the arts?

Any student of history knows that the loss of free expression of the arts, whether it is music, paintings, sculptures, the written word, or the theater, precedes the fall of a nation. Is this to be the fate of the United States? Will we dare let history repeat itself out of pure ignorance?

As one blogger joked after hearing the Chicago story: "Lets hope the unnamed English teacher doesn't discover the public library, or the Chicago cops will be looking to arrest nearly important author in the last century for disturbing the peace."