I never thought I'd take issue with anyone who raised the banner of freedom of speech, but Tim Rutten makes a fundamental error when he lumps the Aladdin hotel in Las Vegas with the Kobe Bryant trial in Eagle, Colo., and the Federal Trade Commission in Washington ("Free Speech Under Fire All Around the Nation," July 24). He's right in the last two cases but wrong in the first.
The 1st Amendment says, "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech." The government may not shut you up, and that includes courts and federal agencies. The Aladdin is a private business, free to allow or prevent any speech it wants, just as the Los Angeles Times -- or any private publisher -- is free to print or not print anything it wants. If you choose not to print this letter, I have no claim that you have abridged my freedom of speech.
Linda Ronstadt is free to hold and express in public any political views she wants. But if the Aladdin says, "Not in our showroom," it is free to do so. Furthermore, the hotel hired Ronstadt to sing, and people paid money to hear her sing, not to hear her views of President Bush or Michael Moore or the war in Iraq.
Suppose Charlton Heston were in good health and was appearing in a play. Rutten buys a ticket. Near the end of the performance, Heston departs from the script to throw in a few sentences opposing gun control. The audience objects and the management fires Heston. Would Rutten defend the actor's freedom of speech?
Equating the actions of Linda Ronstadt's rowdy "fans" to decisions of the Supreme Court of Colorado or the Federal Trade Commission trivializes the importance of the 1st Amendment. Nothing in our Constitution prohibits a private citizen from protesting the political rants of another.
The 1st Amendment is designed to protect you (and me) from governmental interference in our right to speak. It does not purport to protect an entertainer, athlete, religious leader or street-corner zealot from verbal retribution for attempting to proselytize the unwilling.