Sunday, July 29, 2007
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Responsible language will safeguard free speech
Free speech in our country or any country is a privilege to be cherished.
It is best protected for the present and future when our politicians' rhetoric is truthful and not partisan, our courts speak justice and not favoritism, our news reporting is accurate and not biased, our pulpits are healing and not divisive, our conversations are factual and not slanderous, our advertising is honest and not misleading, our entertainment language is wholesome and not vulgar.
It is a wise people that nurture responsible use of their language.
It ensures that freedom of speech will continue in all segments of society as a noble quality that those before graciously bestowed upon us through their devotion and sacrifice, including for some, their very lives.
TIMOTHY HUME BEHRENDT
And why is it always parroted that some poor fish who got his legs shot off in Iraq (or elsewhere) is someone we should "thank" for our free speech? Saddam Hussein, Ho Chi Minh, Hitler, or the Kaiser were never any threat to our freedom of expression. The only people I've ever seen try to take it away from us have been AMERICANS. The people who have been injured or killed fighting the bankers' wars deserve our most profound sympathy and gratitude, but free speech is an inalienable right. It's a given. No one can abrogate it unless we give them leave to do so.
For my further reflections on the First Amendment, read below for my response to the same letter as Timmy answered (to be printed this week in The Life & Times of Utica):
I respectfully disagree with Mr. Joseph J. Jacob, who asserts that the First Amendment needs to be tailored to "permit restrictions in the interest of morals and the protection of the reputation[s] and rights of others." It would be a grave error to tamper with what which has so long protected our public discourse from being dictated by civil authority. It is especially perilous to do so based on current fashions in Political Correctness--or on what offends you or me personally.
We need to consider that the history of this nation, when not viewed through the filmy gauze of nostalgia, is replete with bad morals, bad manners, insults, name-calling, ethnic slurs, and gleeful slander. People did not speak in mottoes. Public speech was highly rambunctious--and sensitivity to the feelings of others was seldom a consideration. Yet the Republic did not perish. Society regulated those who (in its view) crossed certain boundaries of common decency. An aggrieved party would show up at the Editor's Office with a horsewhip. There was also the quaint custon of tarring and feathering the malefactor, and riding him out of town on a rail. The Feds, what there were of them, looked the other way.
We are actually living in more polite times now than ever. A century ago, every piano bench and home phonograph was amply stocked with "coon songs," some written by African American composers. Ethnic humor was the norm, and clotted the vaudeville stages. Regarding some of these cultural artifacts fills us with a vague sense of guilt, as if we shouldn't even be polluting our enlightened minds with such images. The refined people of that day--our immediate ancestors--delighted in blackface turns and ethnic jokes, some of which were quite mean.
We are so sensitive now that we react to the mildest slur. The examples of offensive speech cited by Mr. Jacob are shocking anomalies, publicized and repeated endlessly. That they have been amplified in our minds through endless repetition should not make our Politically Correct knees twitch toward ruining the Bill of Rights. We are too quick to demand a law--or an Amendment--to remedy every problem in society. Flaws of character should not be subject to micromanagement by the Federal government. Someone who spouts vicious hate speech should be slapped in the face, ignored, laughed at, or socially ostracized, depending on the circumstance.
The measure that Mr. Jacob advocates to solve the problem of "vulgar" expression is likely to boomerang and curtail his (and everybody else's) free speech. When a law exists, it can be used by a functionary to wield petty authority to suit any agenda. When the authority is Federal, the word "Orwellian" comes to mind.
The primary unit of government is the individual--and we have to be self-disciplined enough to regulate our own speech and behavior. That certain public commentators lack the sense or sensitivity to avoid giving unnecessary offense is no reason to override our personal sovereignty with more oppressive laws. As a broadcaster, I never turn on the microphone without considering this quote of Oscar Wilde: "A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone's feelings unintentionally."