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Free speech rights on infamous Nazi symbol go both ways.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Pete Sorenson

Lane County is a large place, with almost 350,000 people and a land area larger than three states. Most of the people live in the Eugene-Springfield area.

It's also one of the most beautiful places in our country.

To the west of the urbanized area, Highway 36 runs through one of the gems of the county. It's a state highway that goes north of the "main" state highway to the Oregon Coast, Highway 126.

Towns such as Blachly, Swiss home and Mapleton can be found along the highway. It also has Triangle Lake, which is a great little lake with a wonderful waterfall just downstream.

Also along this beautiful route, there are plenty of people who own homes and acreage. There are farms, tree farms and the wonder of Oregon's Coast Range.

But marring this route is a guy who owns a house and some acreage. You may have never heard of him, but he's been displaying the Nazi symbol, the swastika, on his property, and it is clearly visible from the state highway.

At this point in the story, I'd like to say that I'm a lawyer, a former adjunct professor of law and a former member of the Oregon Senate Judiciary Committee. As such, I'm an ardent defender of First Amendment rights.

So, much as I dislike the swastika and the Nazi symbol, I know that this person has a right under both of our federal and state constitutions to display them on property he owns.

Because of the passage of time, there may not be many people in the county who know about the meaning of the Nazi symbol, the swastika. To me, it was and still is a symbol of hatred of Jews.

During World War II (a war my father fought in for the U.S. Army), the Nazi symbol was used on the Nazi flag, the flag under which the Nazi dictator - Adolf Hitler - oversaw the murder of 6 million Jews in grotesque death camps.

Following the defeat of Hitler and the Nazi army, the world's democratic nations prosecuted the Nazi leaders and convicted them of crimes against humanity.

More recently, and now in our own county, extremists display the Nazi symbol. Yes, they have that right, but we, as the people of the county, and I, as an elected official, have rights, too.

We - and I hope it's a lot of us - have a right to say we don't like it, that we don't agree with hatred and symbols of the Nazis.

After my statements at a meeting of the Board of Commissioners, speaking out against the Nazi symbol, the person who displayed the Nazi flag was contacted by a local television station. As they attempted to ask him about the flag, he apparently threatened them.

After the television report, the guy called me and left a message to "call off the dogs."

To be clear: People have a right to display the Nazi flag, and people also have a right to speak out against hate and against symbols that represent hate. And to be equally clear, I won't be intimidated by Nazi sympathizers.

I encourage all Lane County residents to join me in speaking out against the Nazi symbol and what it represents.

Pete Sorenson represents the South Eugene District on the Lane County Board of Commissioners.
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Title Annotation:Local Opinion
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 21, 2009
Words:562
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