Monday, April 6, 2009

Sticks and Stones

Texas Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) has introduced a bill that would require "person first respectful" language in all state statutes and resolutions. According to KHOU:

The bill would ban the use of eight terms in all state statutes and resolutions. They are: disabled, developmentally disabled, mentally disabled, mentally ill, mentally retarded, handicapped, cripple and crippled.

It would replace those terms with these: persons with disabilities, persons with developmental disabilities, persons with mental illness and persons with intellectual disabilities.
Supporters of the bill say words like retarded and handicapped are hurtful:

Mary Herbert, who has been in a wheelchair all her life as a result of cerebral palsy and other complications, says she is 100 percent behind the bill.

"I've heard them all my life, and no, it's not right," she said. "It's like they're trying to put a label on us, and to me, it's not right."

Herbert says many times, people look at her wheelchair and never look up to see the person in the chair.

"I'm a wheelchair, so what?" she said. "That's the way I look at it. I'm the one who has to deal with it. They don't. I really don't think people like me ought to be typecast."
Sen. Zaffirini and supporters of this bill are suffering from a severe case of reality deprivation. They seem to believe that if we call the mentally retarded something else, they will suddenly be able to perform calculus and boorish individuals will see the error of their ways. But the fact is, no matter what we call the mentally retarded, those individuals will remain mentally retarded. And boorish individuals will remain boorish individuals.

Ms. Herbert doesn't like having a label attached to her, as if "person with disabilities" isn't a label. Regardless, she would be well advised to learn that age-old retort:

Sticks and stones can break my bones,
But words can never harm me.

Of course, words can harm me, particularly when they are used to write laws that violate individual rights. And that is where Zaffirini's bill is headed. Her bill may apply only to state statutes and resolutions now, but it is only one small step to ban such language throughout the state. If it is hurtful for legislators to use such language, it is no less so when Bubba uses it.

If I want to call someone a retard, or a dick head, or any other derogatory term, that is my right. If someone is offended by my choice of words, then they can choose point out my errors and shun me. But to prohibit me from using certain word because they are offended is, to be frank, to be a wussy. If my words offend you to the point that you need to use a gun to prohibit me from using them, then intercourse yourself.

I was never a fan of George Carlin, but I do appreciate his "Seven Words" routine. I first heard that routine, ironically enough, at a meeting of my church's youth group. At the time, I found it humorous and exciting--it challenged the ideas that were being thrown at me. Today I regard that routine as vulgar, and I am deeply offended by it. But he had a right to perform that routine, and it does not matter whether I, or my neighborhood, or my community, or anyone else is offended.

Vulgarity, boorishness, and plain stupidity should not be illegal. If that were the case, most of the members of Congress, the Supreme Court, and those working in the White House would be in jail. And so would Sen. Zaffirini, because she is obviously a "person with intellectual disabilities".

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