The old saying “It’s a free country” is on the verge of being buried under a deluge of entitled bullies who think they have the right to tell you what you can and can’t say or do. And the bullies appear to be winning.

The artist who painted a public TAX THE RICH mural in San Francisco is apparently not a fan of my blog – at least not Why Elizabeth Warren’s ‘Wealth Tax’ Would Wreck the U.S. Economy, which featured a properly licensed Flickr photo of the mural.

I know that because an organization representing the artist contacted me to say that he/she held a copyright for the mural and did not want it associated with my post and would I kindly remove it.

Of course I replied that my use properly complies with the creative commons terms that the photographer set on Flickr – where there are, btw, dozens of similar photos of the same apparently very popular mural – and that the painter’s copyright has no bearing in this situation.

I thought I was educating them about copyright law. I was wrong. They apparently knew the law and were just trying to get me to take it down. Why? Because the painter apparently did not like my post.

Well tough shit; it’s a free country. I didn’t say that, but that’s how I felt.

Their final words before I ended the email conversation were, “You can choose to be an asshole; however, we’d prefer to resolve this kindly. Thank you.”

I have to say, that was the nicest way anyone has ever called me an asshole in my entire life. You’ve got to give those S.F. hippies some credit for that. Of course they did mention having a lawyer on staff in the prior paragraph but that’s neither here nor there.

I will not be bullied into forfeiting my rights or silenced no matter how many times they use the word, “kindly.” It’s still bullying. Don’t get me wrong. They do have the right to ask. And I have the right to refuse.

Not to mention that I really like that picture, and not just because of the mural. Want to bet the guy in the hat, who looks suspiciously like a homeless dude, is asking the other guy for a handout? You can’t beat the symbolism.

I should probably add that this certainly is not the first time someone who didn’t like what I had to say tried to muscle me to shut me up, and I’m sure it won’t be the last, but the number of incidents are definitely accelerating.

The point of the story is this. When I was a kid and anyone said or did something someone else didn’t like you’d hear the phrase, “It’s a free country,” often followed or preceded by “So sue me.” And that would usually be the end of it.

Not anymore.

Whether it’s YouTube comments on Candice Owens’ congressional testimony on white nationalism and hate crimes being deleted, conservative speakers – even Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh – getting bullied off college campuses, or a blog post explaining the economic consequences of a wealth tax, “It’s a free country” no longer has the stopping power it once had.

The problem with that is simple. In the old days you were free to say or do anything, as long as it didn’t put anyone else in imminent danger. That standard was relatively straightforward and upheld by enough court rulings so it was clear.

Once you start drawing entirely subjective lines around what constitutes free speech or free expression, that’s a slippery slope. Where does it end? There’s no way to know, but I’m guessing nowhere good. And that is the problem.

Image credit Romain / Flickr (and no, I didn’t use the pic again to be spiteful — the story didn’t make sense without it)