No Laughing Matter

"I just completed three years and was re-elected to my second term to city council," says Sandy, former councilwoman for the City of Dacono, Colorado. 


But her term was unexpectedly cut short. Sandy made national headlines for posting a joke online that some deemed inappropriate. She reads an excerpt: "‘I can handle being a black, disabled, one-armed, drug-addicted, Jewish queer on a pacemaker who is HIV-positive and has a Mexican boyfriend, but please don't tell me I'm a Democrat!'" She erupts in peals of laughter. "I think it's hilarious. I think it's the greatest joke that's come around in centuries!"

The Dacono mayor asked Sandy to remove the post, but she refused, resigning instead. "I don't feel the need to apologize for anything. This was a joke. Anyone who was offended decided they wanted to be offended," she declares. "I'm not a bigot. I'm not a racist. I want to say what I want to say, and if something is funny, I want the right to laugh at it."

Dr. Phil addresses Sandy. "You posted this joke, and it dealt with all races, disabled people, gay people. Do you not think that that would be, and could be, offensive to all of those groups and classes of people you had as part of your punch line?" he asks.

"I think that anyone who gets offended at something like this chooses to be offended," she maintains.

"I choose to be offended by that," Dr. Phil says sharply. "I think it is idiotic."

"It's your American right," Sandy counters.

"You are a public official. I guarantee you, if you are my councilwoman, I don't want you putting that stuff on the Internet. I don't want you reflecting on me as a representative of me," he says.

"I resigned because I will not be something else. I'm me. I laugh at everything. I can find humor in pretty much everything," she says. "I think people in the United States don't laugh anymore because the government tells you what you can laugh at and what you cannot laugh at."

 

Dr. Phil upbraids the former councilwoman. "You're setting up a paper tiger, and that is absolutely untrue. The government does not tell you what you can laugh at and what you can't laugh at," he says sternly. "But it does tell you that you can't say things that can incite negatives in others, that can incite people to hate crimes, can incite people to all sorts of actions. There are limits to that. We do have rights, but with those come responsibilities."

Dr. Phil turns to Larry Walters. "Even as a First Amendment proponent, you agree, do you not, Larry, that with rights come responsibilities, and free speech is not limitless?"

"Agreed. You hit the nail right on the head. You said, ‘I wouldn't vote for you in my town if you were saying that.' That is the remedy. You have the right to exercise your right to vote and to vote her out," he replies. "The government doesn't have the right to tell her what she can and cannot say, particularly with respect to humor."

Sandy stands by her decision. "It was a joke. It wasn't intended at any one person," she says.

"The things we've read online have said, ‘I find it racist, homophobic and anti-Semetic.' ‘It's bad, just plain, bad.' ‘It's mindless. It's hateful,'" Dr. Phil reads.

"All of the e-mails I've gotten, it's been pretty much split," Sandy says.

Holly lives in Sandy's town and feels the joke was inappropriate. She joins the show via Web cam to voice her dismay.

 

"I'm shocked. I'm blown away. I am disgusted by Sandy's ability to find that joke funny or entertaining, and I'm disappointed that a public figure, who represents me and my community, would find it acceptable to post such a thing in a public forum. It's just not acceptable," Holly says. "I'm a home owner who is financially vested in seeing this community grow, and I'm even further upset that she's now tarnished our city's name. I know that Sandy has made efforts to see progress in our community, but all of her efforts are for naught; they're a waste now because of her careless decision to post inappropriate information on a public forum. It's just not acceptable."

"Holly, everybody is allowed to think the way they want to think," Sandy says. "You have your opinion. I have mine. We have the right to disagree. That's one of the great things about America."

Dr. Phil wonders aloud if Sen. Rupp's proposed legislation would apply in Sandy's case. "You're not talking about something that goes so far as to try to limit this behavior?" he asks.

"As a public official, I think we are held to a higher standard," Sen. Rupp replies. He faces Sandy. "In this case, there's no court of law that would convict you, but I think you've been convicted in the court of public opinion."

 

"I don't think we have the right to restrict you from doing it, as offensive as it is," Dr. Phil tells Sandy. "I have the right to find it offensive, and I have a right to think it is irresponsible and hurtful when you're in a position of public responsibility."

"It's a small town, and seriously, if it upsets somebody, I'm totally sorry because it wasn't intended to do that," Sandy says. "I'm a Democrat. I thought it was funny."

"Was it worth it?" Dr. Phil asks.

"Absolutely. I would put the joke up again," she says.

"You did really good work on this council. So many people we have talked to have said you are hard-working, you are focused, you get things done. You were a mover and a shaker on that council. Now you're not doing that work. Was it really worth it?" Dr. Phil probes.

"When you become a figure in a higher position, you do have to become a different person. You don't really get to be yourself. It's not all that easy to retain who you are and be this official person," she says, directing her answer to Sen. Rupp. "I've been a laid-back person all my life."