You Have Rights, But You Must Speak Out

The pronounced biases in certain parts of American society against Turkey, persons of Turkish ethnicity, and the Ottoman Empire can be dispelled if the usual stereotypes, caricatures, and errors are disputed in the classroom, in town meetings, in public gatherings, and in all manner of public gatherings.  These day-to-day refutations are the best vehicle for altering general attitudes towards Turkey and Turks, which translates into fairer treatment by local, state, and national government. TALDF arms Turkish Americans with knowledge of their legal rights to freedom of expression, which should encourage them to speak openly and forcefully against historical mistakes or distortions about Turkey, its history and heritage, without fear of retaliation.

Add Your Perspective In Lieu of Suppressing Someone Else’s

Correspondingly, we firmly believe that Turkish Americans should eschew attempts to suppress biased or twisted speech in favor of adding a Turkish perspective to the free marketplace of ideas.  Students and adults alike should be trusted to draw reasonable conclusions based on their exposure to a rich array of educationally suitable viewpoints.  Indoctrination is not education.  It stunts the mind and the ability to think.   Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis had the right idea by insisting that the proper remedy for foolish or mistaken speech is more speech, not enforced silence.

The constitutional right to freedom of expression is enshrined in the First Amendment and hundreds of Supreme Court decisions interpreting the Constitution’s text.  The Supreme Court has repeatedly lectured that neither legislators nor educators may suppress or muffle an idea because it is politically unpopular.  The First Amendment, however, draws a sharp distinction between government action and private speech.  While the amendment prohibits government officials and laws from discriminating against disliked ideas, ordinary citizens may do so.  The First Amendment does not prohibit a private organization to require members to subscribe to the Armenian genocide.  On the other hand, private citizens may be sued for defamation if they falsely accuse Turkish Americans of odious activities to frighten them into silence or otherwise.  

The following First Amendment principles are most relevant to Turkish Americans:  

*Turkish Americans cannot be denied public jobs or be demoted or fired because of the views they hold on any issue, such as the Armenian issue, the PKK, Cyprus, or any other issue of special concern to Turkish Americans.  Nor can they be denied an opportunity to speak on equal terms with other attendees in a public forum, including city council or board of education meetings.
*Turkish Americans cannot be denied public permits or licenses to demonstrate or rally in support of specific views.

*Turkish Americans may insist that public instruction on issues relating to Turkey or the Ottoman Empire be based solely on educational suitability, and not on the political power of Armenians, Greeks, Greek Cypriots, or otherwise.

*Turkish Americans may petition state educational authorities to alter or supplement textbook materials to enrich their educational value.    

*Turkish Americans may protest biased or misleading lectures in public education.  The protests should demand more speech and additional viewpoints, not suppression of objectionable views.

*Turkish Americans may petition city councils, mayors, state officials, Members of Congress, and the President to complain about prejudices, stereotypes, or errors on matters of concern to them.  But they do not have a right to have all their complaints accepted.

*Turkish Americans have the same right of access to public or public school bulletin boards to post their views as any other group.

TALDF will seek to resolve problems through both legal and non-legal avenues.   Some issues can be resolved with a firm letter.  Others can be settled with mediation.  A lawsuit generally should be the last remedy.

Turkish Americans, however, must be vigilant in detecting problems and bringing them to the attention of TALDF.  Passivity is unacceptable.  All that is necessary for bigotry and injustice to triumph is for good Turkish Americans to do nothing.

We seek your active involvement.  Your rights can be preserved, but you must speak out.  If you feel that you or your child has been the victim of suppression of free speech or similar right, please contact us and we will help you to evaluate the matter and, if necessary, identify methods and resources for seeking redress.



Turkish American Legal Defense Fund - TALDF
1510 H St. NW Suite 900, Washington, DC 20005
Phone: 202-370-1399 ext.13, Fax: 202-370-1398