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Redskins: change your name. Washington: don't censor

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Okay. Now the United States Patent Office has gotten into the fray. It has revoked patents on the Washington Redskins name; yet we hear little about free speech rights despite that.

This isn't to defend the Redskins, whose name admittedly is pretty offensive. There's no point denying that, Washington supporters and NFL fans. But there are issues nonetheless with what the Patent Office, an arm of the US Government, has done, as well as free speech questions seen more broadly.

When the government funds art, even or perhaps especially art which is clearly intended to insult (such as the Crucifix in urine thing years ago), we're supposed to accept it as a defense of free speech even with our tax dollars paying for the offense. Yet offend certain other folks, in this case Native Americans, obviously, and government action goes exactly the other way. This is more than merely schizophrenic. It is dangerous when a government can say what is and is not legitimate free speech. That is exactly what the action does.

It's worth remembering that many things have been defended by the government despite their being deemed offensive by groups of people no more nor less important to our society than Native Americans, yet government doesn't mind insulting them. Still, the real bottom line is that the Redskins should change their name and Washington itself should get out of the business of censorship, even with such relatively mild forms as a patent office rebuke. The move isn't likely to actually hurt the organization, but it sets a bad precedent for our future leaders who might one day employ such tactics against their political enemies. Mere football games and team names will matter little after that point is reached.

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