Editorial | Our View Free speech a noble cause By Star-Advertiser staff Dec. 27, 2014 Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! Read more Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser! You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription. Subscribe Now Read this story for free: Watch an ad or complete a survey Log In Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story. Activate Digital Account Print subscriber but without online access? Activate your Digital Account now. Those who take stands in the defense of free speech usually frame it as a protection of substantive and important expressions and ideas. Merritt Burch and Anthony Vizzone, who sued to uphold the First Amendment on the University of Hawaii’s Hilo campus, fall into this category: Theirs was a fight for the general freedom to speak out, which should have been sacrosanct in any college setting. Burch and Vizzone clearly realize this, which is why they are so deserving of selection as one of the Star-Advertiser’s "Heroes Next Door." Their issue was a protest of surveillance by the National Security Agency, and they were stopped while distributing, of all things, copies of the Constitution on campus. They sued and won, setting a precedent for other campuses and causing a change in UH policy. Their cause, however, is not limited to UH. It is universal. Consider that the defenders of "The Interview" movie championed something of limited artistic value — some dismissed the comedy as a mere "stoner flick," funny but crude. But it’s when the subject matter is less than noble that we can take the truest measure of the U.S. commitment to free expression. The hack of Sony Pictures’ computer system and the subsequent terrorist threat to suppress the film’s release amplified the furor to international levels because the movie was a mocking fictional account of a plot to assassinate the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Kim Jong Un reportedly didn’t appreciate being the target of satire, and movie theaters — the target of the terroristic threats — waved off the movie. Of course, this raised the hackles of moviegoers across the country. North Korea has been a thorn in the side of the West and the U.S. in particular, and the American public sent back a pointed message: Don’t tread on me. When it was finally released, the cause of free speech was an irresistible lure to take in "The Interview," even for those who generally don’t go for movies like that. For the opportunity to underscore the importance of free speech, regardless of the subject, we should all feel grateful. Whoever was behind the hack and the threats — and there’s some suggestion it might have originated from someplace other than North Korea — the attempt to intimidate seemingly backfired. More people will take in the movie because of the threats than might have been the case otherwise. In his year-end press conference, President Barack Obama underscored the real impact: that it could lead to self-censorship, with writers increasingly inclined to pull their punches. The next time, he said, the topic might be more consequential. Americans too easily take their freedoms for granted, but organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists keep an eye on places where they’re lacking. Its current list of most censored countries includes nations such as Eritrea, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Syria, as well as North Korea. In many countries, the ruling regime clamps down on any expression that casts a bad light on the government or the favored religion, to cite two common fault lines. Hollywood is the beneficiary of freedom that grabs all the headlines, but everyone has a stake in it. UH-Hilo may not be a grand stage, and "The Interview" may not qualify as literature for the ages, but it’s through such battles that the defense of freedom is attained. Previous Story Off the News Next Story Solution or smoke screen?