Al Gore Stands Up for Chicks' Rights

04/01/2003 at 01:00 PM EST

The Dixie Chicks ruffled some feathers when singer Natalie Maines told a London audience she was "ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." But the Texas-based trio have at least one defender in former Vice President Al Gore.

Gore, speaking to a Murfreesboro, Tenn., college audience about media monopolies (which he sees as causing a dangerous lack of tolerance for opposing views), defended the Chicks for their views, the Tennessean newspaper reports.

"They were made to feel un-American and risked economic retaliation because of what was said. Our democracy has taken a hit," said Gore, 55. "Our best protection is free and open debate."

After the remark in England, Maines quickly issued an apology, released just days before the bombing in Iraq began. But she added: "I feel the president is ignoring the opinions of many in the U.S. and alienating the rest of the world. My comments were made in frustration, and one of the privileges of being an American is you are free to voice your own point of view."

Even so, record sales have slipped for the Chicks and radio stations across the country boycotted the trio's music in retaliation. According to Billboard, weekly sales for the trio's newest album, "Home," plunged from 123,000 copies to 71,000. The CD, which had hovered near the top of the album chart for 30 weeks, slid three spots to No. 7.

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