Opinion: Defending free speech isn’t easy — reflections on the MAGA hat incident


Daily Post Editor

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” — A quote commonly attributed to the French philosopher Voltaire but actually written by his biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall

If you see yourself as a supporter of free speech, then the hardest speech to defend is that of people you disagree with.

I don’t want to take sides in the Make America Great Again debate, but a guy wearing a MAGA hat in a Palo Alto Starbucks shouldn’t be subjected to yelling by a woman who disagrees with his point of view.

This incident, on April 1 at the Starbucks on California Avenue, is a wake-up call for Palo Alto, telling us that we need to do a better job at tolerating opposing views and acting with civility in disagreements.

The instigator, Rebecca Parker Mankey, went further than yelling and chasing the MAGA hat-wearing-man. She went on social media to call him names and asking people to “dox” him, Internet slang for publishing his contact information with malicious intent.

Mankey lost her job at a business in the California Avenue district and has resigned from a local Democratic Party club. She’s also been bombarded with threats online after conservative websites picked up the story.

To his credit, the victim of this attack — a 74-year-old Jewish man who only wants to go by his first name, Victorfeels Mankey shouldn’t have lost her job, and he doesn’t want anybody to threaten her.

One of the longstanding principles of our republic is that people have the right to free speech — and free speech means being able to wear a hat that represents your views. It’s an idea enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution.

And it’s not easy to defend speech that you disagree with.

Defending neo-Nazis

A shining example of that came in 1978 when the ACLU defended a neo-Nazi group that wanted to march through the Chicago suburb of Skokie, where many Holocaust survivors lived. The difficulty of defending the speech of neo-Nazis caused some ACLU members to resign.

But to others in the ACLU, defending the neo-Nazis’ right to free speech and assembly was the same as defending civil rights protesters in Southern cities during the 1960s.

This episode at Starbucks last week provides an opportunity for Palo Alto’s leaders — the seven-member City Council — to make a full-throated, affirmative statement in favor of free speech.

It wouldn’t be about defending President Trump or opposing him. It would be about supporting the right for all citizens to feel comfortable in expressing their views in a civil, nonviolent manner.

Council passes symbolic resolutions all the time, and this would be along the same lines. On Dec. 12, 2016, council unanimously passed a resolution titled “Reaffirm Palo Alto’s Commitment to a Diverse, Supportive, Inclusive and Protective Community.”

While the resolution was prompted by concerns about undocumented residents in the wake of President Trump’s election a month earlier, some language from the resolution seems to apply to the Starbucks incident.

“Each person is naturally and legally entitled to live a life unmolested by harassment, discrimination, persecution or assault, whether perpetrated by individuals, groups, businesses or government,” the resolution said.

Later the resolution said: “Palo Altans value all members of our community of all religions, ancestries and ethnicities as well as people of any disability, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.”

I would amend that last clause to say that Palo Altans should value all members of the community regardless of their personal political beliefs. We should champion political diversity like other forms of diversity.

Standing up for free speech is difficult to do. Especially when the free speech involves somebody wearing a MAGA hat. It’s difficult to defend the speech you disagree with. But you really aren’t supporting free speech if you don’t support all kinds of speech.

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is [email protected].


  1. This is yet another attempt by neo-Marxists–who have long had ever-stronger grips on the Democrat Party–to censor those who disagree with them, bar none.

    Many other Democrats haven’t quite come to grips with that. Others have chosen to #WALKAWAY .

  2. “Standing up for free speech is difficult to do. Especially when the free speech involves somebody wearing a MAGA hat. ”


  3. What this woman did borders upon criminal harassment. She threatened to maliciously dox the man for doing what all Americans should have the freedom to do: peacefully express their opinion, be it religious, political or some other viewpoint. Your column was excellent and well-constructed: what I would expect from a fellow journalist. Bravo! Oh, and thank you for being one of the few people who got the Voltaire non-quote correctly: Evelyn Beatrice Hall. Bravo, again! (I understand the woman in question is missing. By commenting, I wish no ill will toward her or her family and hope for her safe return.)

  4. Yes the author did a good job, but…
    “Standing up for free speech is difficult to do. Especially when the free speech involves somebody wearing a MAGA hat. ”


    Still, the author should not continue to hide from this most excellent question.

  5. The hardest part of standing up for free speech that conflicts with your own is NOT labeling it as somehow “bad” when it is only different…

    Much as I would like to praise you and this local paper for taking a clear stand, reiterating that initial bit at the end only lessens the integrity of the rest.

    A better closing would be to turn it about- such as “No matter how it makes you feel there is no reason to be hostile because of a simple message on a hat; perhaps part of making America great again requires those of us living in liberal enclaves to reassess how we truly behave towards diverse opinions and views.” Then continue as you did.

    As a left liberal progressive slash whatever flavor my unchanged values and views are called this week, this lesson in honestly living real tolerance, acceptance, and civil discourse is in dire need of being absorbed and taken to heart by a horrifyingly high ratio of my friends, neighbors, and fellow residents in the Greater SFBA.

    I hope incidents like this one jar enough minds into realizing what they have been espousing widely, and cause an awareness leading to more voices speaking up.

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