There are two stories that have come out in the last few days that begs for an article to written about them. Both of these stories are about one of the most revered rights, U.S. citizens enjoy protected by the Constitution, the freedom of speech
The right of free speech is not just a U.S. right but one of our unalienable and natural right that belong to all people from God, that people instituted governments to protect. In both stories we see citizens practicing their right to free speech and the government possibly infringing on that right.
In one story, a teacher in Union Township school district in New Jersey made some comments on her Facebook about display at the school celebrating Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender Month. The teacher said among other things, that homosexuality is, “a perverted spirit that has existed from the beginning of creation,” and a “sin” that “breeds like cancer.” The teacher is being investigated by the school district for those comments. Several groups are also asking the school district to release the teacher for her remarks.
The other story comes from the #Occupy movement, specifically the protestors in LA. A recently video surface of a teacher saying that talking about running out of the country the “Zionist Jews and the Federal Reserve.” This teacher was released from the school district for those comments. The Superintendent had this to say, “although freedom of speech is a protected right of public employees, the LAUSD can’t set a good example for students while tolerating disrespectful, intolerant or discriminatory behavior.”
Both of these stories show the problem with the freedom of speech. The freedom of speech and press in the First Amendment is there to protect among other things the rude, profane, vulgar and hateful speech. It was not designed to protect speech that we can agree with or polite speech, because that does not need protection. It protects the right of the minority and the people to speak openly, without censorship, on any topic regardless of its taboo nature.
The problem with free speech is that it protects the artist who creates a painting profaning Jesus Christ. It protects the news media that print stories that make our political officials look bad. It protects the protestors outside of a soldiers funeral. It protects the pornographer to make his movies or pictures. It protects the preacher condemning behavior he believes is a sin. It protects the KKK protesting in Skokie, Illinois. It protects the protestor who make wild and hateful accusations. It protects the Tea Baggers questioning the President. It protects the author questioning the President’s citizenship.
In the words of President Andrew Shepherd from “The American President:” You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” Or as Voltaire said, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” The problem with free speech is it requires you to listen sometimes to the most ignorant and hateful things man has to say. But that is also its beauty.
The beauty of free speech is that it does protect every expression of mankind’s heart, mind and voice. It protect you when you are in the minority. All of us have been in a minority at one time or another in our lives. It could be politically, ethnically, or religiously. But the freedom of speech protects you to say your peace without having repercussions from those who are in power calling for your head. And that is exactly what is happening in both of these situations.
In both stories punishment is being laid on the people for things that they said; for practicing their freedom of speech. In a conversation I had this weekend, one person said the teacher with the anti-gay rant was bullying and harassment, which is illegal in New Jersey. Well, your wrong. If the teacher was doing this to the students in the classroom, or allowing it to happen in their classroom then a case could be made for her dismissal, but this is not the case. She made a public statement about her personal beliefs on a public forum. The same is true for the woman who made Anti-Semitic statements. While the opinions of both women are not popular in their community, discriminatory and bigoted, to release them for saying those things violates their right to free speech.
What then can the school districts and the people do about these people in their community? There is nothing wrong or improper about the local community putting pressure on the school district and administration. But to fire them because of what they said would, as stated before, violate their right to free speech. The people of the community are well within their rights to place pressure on the school district. With the pressure placed on the administration they could then go to these teachers and say, “Listen I do not agree with what you said but you have every right to say it. Also, I cannot and will not release you for what you said. But members of this community know who you are and your comments have now made it very difficult for you to do your job. It has also made my job very difficult to defend you and support you inside the classroom. It would probably be easier for you if you voluntarily quit or found another job. Whatever your decision is please come and let me know.”
Lets compare this action to that of the KKK in Skokie, Illinois years ago. The local government could not stop them from their protest and march regardless of how unpopular are their views. The local community though came out and counter protested them. Much like many people do towards the Westboro Baptist Church. The people themselves are showing their solidarity that the behavior is not welcome there. The people with those unpopular views are then driven out of their community voluntarily. This is the right way to do it. It protects the individual rights of the people’s speech and it protects the common good of the community that does not want those views within their community.
The right to free speech is non negotiable. It protects even for those who say the most dreadful and hurtful things. By censoring those people it becomes easier for us to silence more people in the minority in the future. And how soon will it be before you are in the minority and your speech is not hateful or unpopular? And now your beliefs are censored and your right to free speech no longer exists. Free speech even when hateful has meaning and while we cannot defend the message, we defend the right of the people to say it, because sometime that will be us.
Questions? Comments? Concerns? Class dismissed!