The First Amendment of the Constitution reads:
“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.”
Many people, myself included, think this is one of the most important amendments in our constitution (besides the ones that enfranchised blacks and women, which should not have been necessary to define them as people with rights) The impact of this freedom cannot be overstated in my opinion. When you have a country that allows the free expression of opinion, the ability to petition the government for change, freedom of the press to explore the truth when it is found, you have the foundation for a free society. There will still be abuses, power controls, etc. There always are.
There are, and should be, some exceptions to this freedom of speech. You do not have the right to incite violence. You do not have the right to spread knowingly false statements. Other than those, there are few limitations.
Which brings me to the bug up my butt right now.
It started with a white supremacist march a couple of months ago. Now, I have absolutely zero use for white supremacists or klansmen. I have no use for hate purveyors of any kind. I would like to believe that we should have evolved beyond such things by this time. It is obvious that we have not. But, so long as they are engaging in a non-violent demonstration, they have the right to speak their words of hate. And as offensive as I find their words, I will defend their right to speak them. Many people don’t agree with me on this, and that is also their right.
One of the things that followed this demonstration was people posting pictures of people who were part of this demonstration. They identified many of these people and searched out where they worked and lived. Then they demonstrated and protested to their employers, neighbors, schools. Many of these people were fired, their homes put in danger, etc. And many will say they got what they deserve. I am not sure I agree with that. I believe all that was accomplished in this was creating even more anger, hatred and increasing the numbers of the haters who had been hiding in the shadows. By targeting a few, they gave the numbers a greater cause to raise a flag to. Hate is not solved by creating more anger and hostility.
There was recently a woman who was riding her bike and flipped off what she believed to be Trump’s motorcade. Whether it was or not is irrelevant . When she was identified, she was subsequently fired from her job. Even though she was on her own time and simply gave a visual comment to a figure she didn’t like. Because the image of her (from the back) went viral online. She was fired.
A dear friend of mine almost lost her job of many years for speaking her mind after the presidential election. The social media and in person campaign waged against her and her partner was horrific, invasive and reprehensible. I believe the only thing that saved her was the equally strong forces that stood behind her while she fought the attempted character assassination.
Women are stepping out from all corners about sexual abuse in their workplaces. Not that this is an issue that we don’t all know is a commonplace occurance. And no matter how powerful some of these women are, they are still in a battle of their lives for their character. They are made the victims all over again and accused of false accusations, Ulterior motives. Calls for them to be dismissed from their roles.
Freedom of speech is so very powerful. And it is also so very vulnerable. All freedoms are. We want to step on the moral high ground and say “But, they are speaking hate. It has to stop.” But, they are saying things I don’t like, it has to stop. They aren’t saying it the way I want to hear it. It has to stop.
When you seek to silence the klan, the supremacists, you weaken everyone’s right to speak. Because they will take what you did to them and apply it to everything you do or say. As they did with the woman on the bike. As they are trying to do with the women coming forward. As they try to do with anyone that has something to say that they don’t like. As you try to do with anyone that has something to say that you don’t like.
I do, however, believe an exception is a person in political power. They are public servants and sworn to serve all the people. And first responders and medical people. We need to trust that these people will serve all the people equally. To not sever the rights of any of the citizens because of their hate stance or affiliation or religious conviction. The minute they leave that arena, they can do what they want, say what they want, so long as they are not bringing harm on others.
I do boycott companies whose practices go against what I believe in. I do not tell others not to buy from them. I do tell they why I don’t. They have to make their own choices. If after I tell them my reasons they don’t feel those reasons work for them, that is their choice. I will join in protests if their practices take away or limit the rights of other, such as Hobby Lobby and Walmart. But, herein lies the truth. They still exist. They still prosper.
This is not to say that you should not counter protest. Of course you should. We should all make sure our voices are heard on matters that have meaning to us. We worry about Big Brother. But the truth is that WE are Big Brother. There are many groups whose speech I despise. Westboro, the klan, the supremacists, many of the hate preachers like Pat Roberston, Jerry Falwell Jr., Jim Bakker and his pasty food. But, I will defend their right to speak their words. I won’t silence them. Because I don’t want to be silenced. I don’t want the people I respect and love to be silenced. And I want to know who the haters are as well. I can’t fight what I can’t see. I need to know where the shadows are.
The reality we need to understand is that if any one of us is silenced, even the most base of us, then we all are silenced. We don’t win by silencing. We win by speaking. We win by talking and listening and understanding. We don’t win with hatred. We win with connection. Walls only separate. Even walls of silence.