Sunday, June 28, 2015

Free Speech

I may be breaking my own rule by talking about this, but there's an issue out there right now that needs to be discussed - freedom of expression.  There is no greater right more sacred to writers and artists than the right to express oneself without fear of reprisal.  I'm not speaking about being free from criticism - criticism is part of free speech.  What I'm talking about is being fear from sanction by the government or through the use of violence by radicals.

There have been a few high profile items in the news recently about certain fanatics using violence to shut up criticism of their religion.  Basically, they're mad that their feelings got hurt.  I'm of the mind that if your faith can be shaken by a cartoon or by criticism, then that faith isn't particularly strong to begin with.

Watching your back for fear of idiots that can't get over that even "sacred" things can be mocked is bad enough.  What has mortified me more, however, has been the response by a number of folks who are saying that some kinds of speech don't deserve protection.  I think these morons fall into two categories - cowards and fools.

Cowards are those who don't want others to write or say certain things because they're afraid that the unstable among us will resort to violence.  And yes, I mean coward with every bit of sting in the word.  To shirk away because someone might go off the deep end is the epitome of cowardice.  What's worse is when you transfer that cowardice to others.  If you want to hide from the world and not express yourself, that's one thing, but it's quite another when you try and tell someone else not to express something because you're afraid of the reaction.  That is not a valid cause to censor speech, and those who think that way should be ashamed of themselves.

Fools are those who don't understand free speech and the law.  Some people have tried saying that "hate speech" isn't protected under the 1st Amendment.  Sorry, but that's patently false.  Aside from so-called hate speech being expressly protected by the Supreme Court(see Snyder v Phelps), who gets to decide what constitutes hate speech?  What one thinks is hateful, another thinks is insightful.  I promise that the instant you think something is too hateful for expression, something you love will fall into that category next.

It's not like the 1st Amendment says "Congress shall make no law abridging free speech, BUT you can't say something nasty."  Some try pointing to a case named Chaplinsky v State of New Hampshire and say that "fighting words" aren't protected.  What these people are missing is that the exception for this is limited to face-to-face personal insults, and broad based criticism isn't covered.  And the "fire in a movie theater" exception doesn't apply because no one is going to trample others to death trying to escape an inferno just because his or her feelings got hurt.

I urge everyone to look inside themselves and ask if they truly believe in free expression.  If so, then that means tolerating even that which you find repulsive.  The answer to speech or expression you don't like isn't to force another to shut up, but rather to answer them with your own speech or expression.

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