When I was young my father explained freedom of speech by passing on this piece of time-tested wisdom:
I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.
He was talking about individual action and societal action. He’d fought a war to keep dictators from taking over most of the world and wasn’t about to let the liberties preserved fade from the public treasury.
Some people today don’t agree with my dad.
Whether it’s the occasional repeated attempts to outlaw flag burning or the recent calls to criminalize failing to stand for the National Anthem, unpopular speech is not defended. In fact, some people will tell you such speech is indefensible.
It’s not. Not only is such speech defensible but its defense is vital to keeping American values intact. Values such as:
- Freedom to think and say what you want.
- Freedom to gather together with people who share your beliefs.
- Freedom to write your ideas down and pass them along to others.
- Freedom to follow a religion no matter how unpopular it is.
- And freedom to criticize the government and tell it how to make things better.
Are these really American values? The people who wrote, debated and ratified the First Amendment to the United States Constitution thought so.
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. (Wikipedia.)
So for those misguided people who think preserving American values requires making it illegal to say things they don’t like, think again: preserving the values this country was built on requires defending the right of others to say such things. We are to do it as individuals and collectively as a society.
And for those same misguided people: I disagree with what you say but I will defend your right to say it no matter how wrong you are.
That’s what we do in this country.
[This is not a call to stifle debate and discussion. We can criticize the speech of others all we like. That’s also part of our liberty under the First Amendment. But we don’t criminalize it.]