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A traveller from Britain was recently denied admittance to the United States because he had tweeted his intent to spend his vacation here “diggin’ Marilyn Monroe up” before going on to “destroy America.”

I have difficulty seeing his tweets as anything but silly jokes revealing a rather childish flair for exhibitionism and a poorly developed sense of propriety. But federal officials took his threats literally and inhospitably turned him away.

As a child, I was always taught to believe that we Americans cherish our God-given right to speak freely, even when (or perhaps especially when) our words are not the most broadly appealing. And I think the country largely functioned that way back then.

Still today we balk at the notion of outlawing speech or sending police after folks who have merely spoken. And while reading international news, I often encounter stories that make me believe we are still the best of the world’s wealthier countries in our dedication to free speech (as long as we don’t want to say concepts that rich corporations claim to own).

But this story, in addition to staining our national honor, shows how we have learned to abolish free speech: secretly and quietly and, above all, bureaucratically. Never through due process of law, but through an army of petty tyrants.

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