“The First Amendment exists to allow all of our voices to be heard, not to grant one voice the right to drown out all others” — columnist Allison Press
We hear a lot about ‘freedom of speech’ these days. It seems that everyone has their own idea about what, exactly, constitutes ‘free speech’. Perhaps, had the Founding Fathers realized how our society would devolve, realized to what depraved lows the human species could sink, they would have been a bit more specific, would have included some limitations and certainly would have made note of the fact that freedom … any and every freedom … is accompanied by responsibility. But alas, they had just come out from under the heavy thumb of Great Britain and wanted to create a nation that encouraged people to think, to speak freely and open the floor for discussion, for a meeting of the minds that would, ultimately, make this a nation that would truly be “of the people, by the people, and for the people” as Lincoln would quote some 76 years later.
Freedom of speech was included in the 1st Amendment in order to ensure that people could have a voice, could be free to express ideas and share information without fear of government censorship. Fast forward from the writing of the Constitution to present … the year 2022. Today, people claim free speech gives them the right to put lives in danger by refusing to wear a mask or be vaccinated against a deadly virus that has already taken the lives of over 1 million people in this nation alone. They insist that free speech gives them the right to spread lies that lead to violence and sometimes death. Somehow, my friends, I don’t think this is what the framers of the Constitution intended when they said …
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
And yet today, a relatively small group of religious fanatics would impose their will on the rest of this nation, would see their own religious doctrine taught in schools … schools attended by children of all and no religions. Those 45 words of the 1st Amendment have been so widely misinterpreted and expanded that people like James Madison, the chief author of the Bill of Rights that contains the 1st Amendment, would be horrified if he could see how his words have been twisted and skewed.
Out of necessity, some limitations on free speech have been quantified over the past 235 years:
- Obscene material such as child pornography
- Plagiarism of copyrighted material
- Defamation (libel and slander)
- True threats
But are those enough? I want to ask you something … would we even need those few restrictions on free speech if everyone took seriously their responsibilities?
It is common sense … COMMON SENSE … that we should not terrorize children, should not abuse them in any way, certainly not sexually. There could be no child pornography if all people had a conscience, if they stood by their responsibilities and respected the rights of children to simply enjoy those relatively few days of innocent childhood. But NOOOOOO … some perverted individuals think it’s their ‘right’ to not only sexually abuse children, but then to take pictures and video of the act(s) and publish them! What is WRONG with these people??? What is WRONG with the people who would pay money to buy this crap?
What people seem to forget, or not care about, is that words have consequences. If you yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theater, the resulting mass exodus is likely to result in people being trampled and some will likely die. And so, there is a law against doing so, since some people apparently don’t have enough sense of responsibility to think first. In the same manner, on January 6, 2021, a number of people including the twice-impeached former president uttered words to the effect of “FIRE!” … words that stirred the masses to action, caused them to break & enter the U.S. Capitol, vandalize the building and contents, create murder & mayhem, and terrorize our lawmakers as they attempted to overthrow the government. Inciting a riot, inciting a violent coup attempt, is not protected free speech … nor should it ever be.
Whatever happened to responsibility? When did the people of this nation decide it is acceptable or forgivable to lie, cheat and steal? I think about that line in that is often misattributed to the Hippocratic Oath: “First do no harm.” Shouldn’t that be the maxim by which humans measure their behaviour? We should indeed be able to speak, to offer our opinions, but not if it leads to harm, not if it creates violence. When we fail to accept and uphold the responsibility that accompanies any freedom, then we are certain to ultimately lose that freedom. The same is true of free speech … if you use it for harm, to incite violence, to perpetuate a lie, then you will not only lose your own right to speak freely, but you will cost all of us that right.