Saturday, August 29, 2009

Freedom of Speech With Responsibility

I want to talk about our rights to freedom of speech and expression, as well as the responsibilities that go along with those rights. I want to state at the onset, that I’m not telling anyone what to do, or advocating censoring anyone.
In the past few months Americans, especially conservatives, have been active and vocal in a way that we haven’t seen for quite some time. We’ve been going to Tea Parties, healthcare rallies and town halls. We’ve been writing and calling our legislators to express opinions and ask questions. All of these are our rights, guaranteed to us by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But with those rights, comes a certain amount of responsibility to use those rights wisely.
We have seen people on both ends of the spectrum using language that, while it is their right to use, one might question the responsibility they’re showing in using it. On the right we’ve seen and heard President Obama called a fascist and compared to Hitler. On the left we’ve heard average Americans called racists, rednecks, teabaggers, and even un-American just for disagreeing with the president. In both cases the people saying these things have every right to say them. Free speech, by its very nature can be controversial, inflammatory and even offensive. I would never try to limit or legislate anyone’s freedom of speech beyond the accepted restrictions on incitement to violence or the preverbal yelling fire in a crowded theatre. But when we choose to use our freedom of speech in what some might consider irresponsible ways, to shock or to anger, I think we sometimes diminish the impact of what we’re trying to say and ourselves.
For example, Janeane Garofalo can say that Michael Steele or any black person that’s a Republican is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, that’s her right. But the only people that remotely take her seriously are those that are on the far left fringe.
Someone on the right can compare Barack Obama to Hitler, but since the president hasn’t rounded anyone up or committed genocide, only those on the far right are likely to take that comparison seriously.
Likewise, the people that have legally carried AR-15s and handguns to Obama’s healthcare town halls are exercising both their First and Second Amendment rights. But one can legitimately question the responsibility of doing so. Forgetting the fact that the president is there to discuss healthcare, not gun rights. The Secret Service and the police are doing a difficult job, protecting the President of the United States. Carrying weapons in the vicinity only makes their job that much more difficult and stressful. It also gives media outlets like MSNBC the chance to paint all protestors as the next potential Timothy McVeigh’s. Again, I’m not telling anyone what to do. But I am trying to make people think before they act.As someone that airs this program, writes several blogs, many letters both to the editors of newspapers and to elected officials, as well as attending town halls and protests, I cherish our First Amendment rights and appreciate the passion that so many are showing at this difficult time in our nation’s history. I understand that many of us feel our rights to free speech and expression are under attack. When elected officials, members of the media and FCC diversity officers seem poised to stifle those whom they disagree with, it’s important that we not be silent. It’s important that we express our views and not just question, but question with boldness. We must speak without fear. As Thomas Jefferson said, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent”. In a democratic-republic, such as ours, where our elected officials have forgotten that they represent us, not rule us, it’s especially important that we speak out. But I do believe there is a difference between being bold and even provocative and being irresponsible, even stupid. Each of us must decide for ourselves, perhaps with a little guidance from our friends and family, how far to go. All I would ask of all Americans is that they think and not let their mouths get ahead of their hearts or their minds.

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