“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” John Adams (October 11, 1798)
I’ve been following the Helen Thomas brouhaha with much interest but haven’t (until now) commented here about it. Reading the coverage of this incident/scandal/unsurprising anti-Semitic remarks from a well-known anti-Semite, I’ve been most intrigued by the defense of her on both sides of the aisle. Her defenders make cases for her ranging from the inane (gee, she’s so old, she should be indulged as a doddering old grandmother) to the calendar-challenged (this theory goes that she was talking in the heat of the moment in response to the terrorist flotilla incident) and on to the somewhat more thoughtful (she has a right to free speech in this country–this is ideologically and intellectually honest when it comes from someone on the right, but slightly flawed, in my opinion).
Two things need to be said about the latter two defenses (the first is too silly to contemplate): one, Thomas made her disgusting, racist remarks on May 27th, the terrorist flotilla incident did not occur until May 31st; and two, free speech is not a free pass.
Unless Thomas is psychic (rather than psycho), she was not responding to an incident that would not occur for another four days.
We are guaranteed free speech by the first amendment to our Constitution:
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. (emphasis mine)
As Americans, we cherish our freedoms, and most of us have come to realize that our freedom of speech is one of our more important freedoms, one that must be protected at all costs. However, the Constitution clearly states that the abridgment of free speech cannot be made law, it cannot, in other words, be a crime to speak your mind. We cannot be arrested, imprisoned, or executed for freely expressing our views . . . however reprehensible and vile those may be (as is the case with Thomas). As Americans and patriots, we generally agree with the concept that we might not like what you have to say, but we defend to the death your right to say it. This is as it should be.
What the Constitution does not and should not address is how society responds to someone’s expression of their legally-protected right to free speech. Anyone can freely express their seething hatred of anyone or any group, this is America, hate away. However, society has an obligation to respond responsibly to people and groups who say things that are not, for lack of a better term, “socially acceptable.” Socially acceptable differs from politically correct in that it is a societal check rather than a politically-motivated one (usually designed to further an agenda, usually anti-American and anti-white Christian). We cannot tacitly approve of and even encourage the kind of hatred that Thomas engaged in.
There is a reason that white supremacist groups like the KKK and neo-Nazi groups are ostracized by polite society, that they slink around on the fringes of society. While they have every right to say what they say, we have every right–nay, a moral obligation–to respond with our own protected speech that reviles them. We are guaranteed by the Constitution the right to say whatever we like (for the most part), we are not guaranteed that those views will be accepted or permitted to take a prominent socio-cultural or political position–like the front row in the WH press corpse.