Gingrich defends free speech curbs

Union Leader | December 16, 2006
By Riley Yates

MANCHESTER Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich last night defended his call to limit freedom of speech to combat terrorism, comments that last month provoked strident criticism from liberal groups.

Gingrich said the threat of biological or nuclear attack requires America to consider curbs to speech to fight terrorists, if it is to protect the society that makes the First Amendment possible.

"Our friends at the 'ACLU left,' of course, were staggered at this concept," Gingrich told an audience of Republicans at a Christmas banquet. "How could we talk about anything less than 100 percent free speech? How could we consider in any way thinking about this issue?"

Gingrich cited last month's ejection of six Muslim scholars from a plane in Minneapolis for suspicious behavior, which included reports they prayed before the flight and had sat in the same seats as the Sept. 11 hijackers.

"Those six people should have been arrested and prosecuted for pretending to be terrorists," Gingrich said. "And the crew of the U.S. airplane should have been invited to the White House and congratulated for being correct in the protection of citizens."

Gingrich spoke to a crowd of about 250 at the Manchester Republican City Committee's Christmas dinner, held at the Executive Court Banquet Facility.

On Nov. 27, he said the First Amendment may require a "different set of rules" for terrorists, comments made while he addressed a free speech award dinner hosted by the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.

The statements were picked up by Internet bloggers and pundits who charged the former speaker with attacking American values. Liberal MSNBC host Keith Olbermann assailed Gingrich for having "invoked the bogey man of terror."

In an interview, Gingrich said it is possible to distinguish between terrorists and others when looking to fight threatening expression.

"If you give me any signal in the age of terrorism that you're a terrorist, I'd say the burden of proof was on you," Gingrich said.

Gingrich, who has said he plans to decide whether to run for President in September, struck campaign-esque themes last night.

He urged a departure from heavy partisanship, energy independence for the United States and a search for cures for cancer and a vaccine for Alzheimer's disease.

Gingrich touted science as offering possibilities that Americans never believed were possible.

He noted it took only seven years for the U.S. space program to send a man to the moon, and that iPods, the BlackBerry, cell phones and cell phone cameras are all recent inventions.

A cure for Alzheimer's, "is not a fantasy," Gingrich said. "Imagine it was 1950 and I was talking to you about polio."

Last night's event also saw the feting of two Republicans for their efforts on behalf of the GOP.

Jim Coburn, the unsuccessful candidate for governor, was given the Republican of the Year Award.

David Wihby, a former longtime alderman and the deputy commissioner of the state Department of Labor, received the Ray Wieczorek Award for service to the party.