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Tom Morello Stands up for the First Amendment (Even If Much of America Won’t)

Too many people think free speech should only apply to views just like their own
"Like a political Led Zeppelin." Tom Morello performing with Rage Against The Machine. (Credit: Ollie Millington/Redferns via Getty Images)

When a young Tom Morello’s student rag routinely ran hoo-ha about proms and ball games yet kyboshed news of US-backed escuadrones de la muerte raising bloody hell in Central America, the future politicized riff-maestro realized that free speech is hated if it ain’t what people want to hear.

Specifically in Libertyville, Illinois, where Morello started an underground school paper called the Student Pulse.

And along with covering apartheid and death squad atrocities, “We wrote a lot about how the Dean of Students was a dick,” Morello tells Ryan Downey in a conversation for FIRE and SPIN.

The Student Pulse quadrupled the distribution of the authorized, censorious paper. The school’s response?

Ban it.

Morello’s response? “We called the Chicago ACLU,” Morello says. “And we said, ‘We’re 16, 17-year-old kids, we’ve got a newspaper. Our school says we can’t pass it out. Um, can we?’”

And the ACLU’s response? “We’ll be right over.”

As for the censorship of music and the vilification of the early Lollapalooza festivals, which Rage Against the Machine played – even stripping nude in protest. “Whenever someone’s trying to protect the youth you know there’s an authoritarian behind it,” Morello says.

Watch Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave talk about refusing to censor his explosive music for radio, nudity as a statement, the notorious Parents Music Resource Center, seeing the Clash live in ’82, and all things First Amendment.