Prepare For Offense!

 

            A friend of mine often said, “Some times freedom of speech means that we are going to hear things that offend us.”  By its very definition freedom of speech will often be offensive.  Speech that is censored is not, by the very nature of censorship, offensive. 

 

            This does not mean that we should never censor ourselves.  Far from it, part of living in a free society is that we must learn when to insist on our right to say anything on a subject and when it is time to seek a more peaceful verbal way.

 

            Self-censorship does not inhibit freedom of speech.  Government or public censorship, however, does inhibit freedom of speech.

 

            Perhaps the most amazing thing about censoring speech is that we only sensor speech that matters.  It is getting where you cannot go out to dinner in a public restaurant with your children because of the profanity they will here coming from the tables around you.  And it is not just kids, but adults talking trash loudly. 

 

            Now that is speech that should be censored, but if you say something to them you end up in a fist fight or yelling in a public restaurant.  If, on the other hand, I go onto the street and start sharing religious beliefs I am tolerated only as long as my religious views fit the current cultural norm.

 

            I know this is true because I am an attorney who represents a number of street evangelists who continually find themselves in some level of legal trouble because they insist on sharing their religious views in public.

 

            The more politically correct we become, the less free we are.  If I cannot comment on my views on homosexuality or Islam for fear of the backlash of those who are offended, then freedom of speech is harmed.  I am not talking about those who are offended having a public discussion.

 

            That is not their way, generally speaking.  Typically those who are offended by this type of speech will find a police officer and ask him to force you to stop speaking or arrest you.  This is not tolerance of the free exchange of ideas.  We should not tolerate this type of response to free speech, even offensive speech.

 

            When freedom of speech is harmed, the Constitution, that most sacred of American documents, is invalidated.

 

            I remember when the activities in front of abortion clinics were being prohibited by federal judges.  We told judges that shutting down the ability of people to voice their opinion in public places would lead to violence in public places.  After the voices were shut down, there was in fact violence in front of a number of abortion clinics.  This does not validate the violence, but it does show, clearly, the value of freedom of speech in public on controversial issues.

 

            Freedom of speech serves a number of valuable purposes.  The most important one is that it allows us to express our views and relieve some of the frustration of feeling voiceless in modern society.

 

            It also teaches us how to appreciate a broader range of cultures.  Speech in public places should be teachable moments with our children and our friends.

 

            We have to learn to tolerate the views of everyone, especially those we disagree with the most.  In that vane, I often go to online forums looking for people with whom I disagree.  Such discussions sharpen my logic and help me understand those I disagree with.

 

            At the same time, this can be extremely frustrating, since often my liberal friends are not as tolerant of conservative ideas and discussions as they should be.  Their tolerance often lasts as long as they agree with a position.  This is not free speech; it is shallow and destructive to the public discussion that must be protected by freedom of speech.

 

            Let us work to bring back freedom of speech and with it the offense that is necessary for living in the modern world.

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