With Liberty and Justice for All

This week’s editorial was prompted by the most vehement and disturbed expression from The Forum’s readership community that this newspaper has seen in over forty years.  Distaste, disgust, anger, angst – the list of emotionally charged adjectives that accompanied text’s, emails and phone calls to the newspaper – could go on forever. But we have more consequential issues on which to focus.

Last week, the newspaper’s editor, Michael V. Cusenza, authored a story titled “CB 9 Pledge of Allegiance Issue Festers,” in which he published segments of a letter to the editor submitted by Mr. Sam Esposito, a member of the Ozone Park Residents Block Association, Ozone Park Howard Beach Woodhaven Lions – James Romanelli-Stephen’s Funeral Home Corp., and a former member of Community Board 9.

The letter centered on Esposito’s outrage over the fact that one of the CB 9 members did not remove his hat during the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.  In his letter, Esposito called for the removal of Faiuze Ali from his position as First Vice Chairman of CB 9 and referred to the actions of Mr. Ali as “…disrespectful, unpatriotic, disloyal, traitorous and treasonous.”

In a statement issued this week to the newspaper, Ali gave reason for not removing his hat.  “As a devout Muslim who places emphasis on my ability to demonstrate in character and attire that religious identity, wearing a head covering, amongst other apparels, is distinguished to the faith.”

In consideration of the two sides of this situation, let us first consider the irony of it. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the right of both Esposito to express his opinion and Ali to keep his hat on.

To suggest that anyone refusing to remove their hat for the Pledge could be perceived as disrespectful or unpatriotic is clearly an expressed opinion of Esposito to which he is entitled and free to express. But when personal expression devolves into labeling an individual as a traitor or being treasonous, we are stepping off into grounds of defamatory characterization, possibly even libelous.

Treason after all, is the most serious charged crime outside of murder and the only other one that can lead to the death sentence. We see why the community is distraught over remarks both they and this newspaper consider to be inflammatory, divisive and unnecessary.

We will not explore here the long and storied history of Esposito and CB9. What we cannot and will not ignore is an incident like this, fueled by negative and threatening social media, both instilling fear and inspiring unrest.

We are pretty sure that the Founding Fathers never meant free expression to demean, defame or devastate, regardless of one’s mode of expression.  We’re also pretty sure they’d agree with this: Division is better left to the mathematicians.


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