Lets not clamp down on free speech

The organizers of San Francisco's anti-war rally were wrong to exclude Rabbi Michael Lerner from speaking on Sunday. While Lerner's views are far to the left of many in the Jewish community, ostracizing him is a blow to free speech.

It also gave us pause since one of the rally's organizers, ANSWER, has a reputation for being anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist.

However, it appears that anti-Semitism was not involved in snubbing Lerner — and for that we are pleased.

But what pleases us even more is that Stephen Pearce, the respected rabbi of our largest synagogue in Northern California, San Francisco's Congregation Emanu-El, will be addressing the crowd along with some of his local colleagues.

As a result, Jewish voices will be heard, especially more moderate voices such as Pearce's.

It's brave of him to stand in opposition to the war. A story in this week's paper about a recent American Jewish Committee survey says that a majority of American Jews — 59 percent — support the war.

Pearce will undoubtedly face a backlash at his congregation. But we're living in times that are similar to the Vietnam War era. We all need to speak our consciences even if our views may not be popular with our friends, our neighbors or our congregants.

We can agree with President Bush about Iraq's link to terrorism. We can agree that Saddam Hussein is hiding weapons of mass destruction. But we can also say that war should only come as a last resort if a provocation makes it a necessity.

Those among us who can't buy this pacifist stance should at least respect it.

We urge that everyone open their minds and listen to both sides of this debate on war.

This is no time to clamp down on free speech, as was the case during the 1960s. Let Lerner speak, let Pearce speak, and keep an open mind on what the president and his team are saying.