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Don't save me from the left or right

From two extremes, people who believe passionately in freedom are calling for increased regulations to restrict what their opposites can do. With the growing influence of conservative evangelical churches, liberals are calling for revision of the laws that define what a religion is and what religions can't do. From their side, influential conservatives are promoting legal schemes to ''defund the left,'' to limit the outreach of organizations like Planned Parenthood that deal with causes they consider dangerous to the country.

Liberals who, for 50 years, have been listening to their Roman Catholic priests tell them how to vote, or who still hear their black preachers endorse candidates, or who encouraged their Lutheran ministers to march in Selma, want to clamp down on what can be done in the name of religion. Conservatives, who preach faith in people, minimal government, and clearer separation of church and state, want expansion of governmental control over what they define as unholy.

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If both sides get their way, we'll have more laws to protect us from the right and the left - and less freedom for everyone.

Out of passion and bitterness, both sides are losing sight of protection of the larger freedoms of speech and assembly, and of their wide-open opportunities to spread what they consider the truth. Any infringement on these freedoms and opportunities will sooner or later infringe both of them and all of us.

If some people believe that the rest of us must be protected from certain extreme ideas, or if they're frightened that we won't make the right decisions for ourselves, our families, and our communities, there is comfort in Thomas Jefferson's advice, ''I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.''

Norman Lear started People for the American Way to warn people of the seductive media campaigns of the Moral Majority, and if Lear goes too far, someone else will come along to correct him. Along the way, the people learn and grow.

There are some causes in the land that I believe are downright dangerous, and there are situations where opposing crusades spend staggering amounts only to achieve a standoff. Our protection - and theirs - is in our right to disclose what we know, not to foreclose what they do.

If some groups clearly trespass the law, the authority is already at hand to deal with them. Hopefully, though, the law will not be administered with a heavy hand. Democracy and I can survive my clergyman telling me how to vote on a candidate who supports federal appropriations for abortions, but we will not survive if he can be too easily silenced on public issues, or if true believers in any cause can legally stifle their doubters.

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