Free Speech Is Not a Free Pass

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.

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9 thoughts on “Free Speech Is Not a Free Pass

  1. Fuzzy, Fuzzy, Fuzzy,

    If writing is not your day job, I feel it might be time to look into a carrer change!

    That was masterfully crafted and absolutely bump on!

    Yesterday morning I was pumping gas at the end of my street when a car pulled up booming some of the most disgusting lyrics I have ever heard. I am by no means a prude, but this was just filth! When the occupant left the car to go prepay his gas of course he did not shut the music off.

    When I suggested that he turn it off because the rest of the neighborhood and most of South Fort Myers was not quite as enamored with his selection of artists (I use that term very loosely.) I was given the “one finger salute”
    as he walked away holding his crotch, (I suppose to keep his pants from falling down around his ankles!) All I know is that guy would be in a hell of a mess if he ever had to run for his life!

    Lock & Load!!!

    Sons & Daughters of Liberty Unite!!!

  2. “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.'”

    Exactly.

    I appreciate her frankness and feel that she verbalized a rather common feeling among the press and this administration in particular, which is a sad state of affairs. I'm glad that her open declaration was met with outrage. Poland and Germany – where does she come up with the dialogue? These were the nations the Nazi's of Germany were most 'successful' in cruelly murdering an innocent Jewish population. Where they built their suffer hole extermination camps. Dreadful reminder, Helen.

    So much for Gabriel Winant's Salon piece claiming that Jack Knotts is the normal expression of the right, steeped in racism and bigotry. No, it would appear that there is more than enough of that on the left to keep Gab fully occupied calling it out and purifying his own side of the tracks. Not that he ever would, the putz.

  3. It's amusing to me when people believe that the Constitutional right of free speech somehow is a blanket protection from all the ills of people's reactions. And, of course, these are often the same people who go ballistic when someone says something that's racially derogatory. I'm reminded of a woman working at a university who nearly lost her job for saying [paraphrased here] “Having a team named the Redskins in the NFL is as insulting to Native Americans as having an NFL team named the [the n-word] would be insulting to African-Americans.”

    This issue sort of reminds me when people reacted to Sinead O'Connor tearing up a picture of the Pope on SNL a number of years ago. The audience at an event soon after booed O'Connor off the stage, which she took pretty hard– and the LA Times was quick to run to her defense as an artist. The idea behind the article seemed to be that the prole audience must recognize that artists like O'Connor have the right to do and say whatever they want by way of their artistic expression.

    Both in the case of Thomas and O'Connor there's an elitism evident in many people's and the MSM's reactions. They push the idea that some people have the right to say whatever they want and the lessers should just silently and obediently bask in the privilege of even being addressed by such people. It's really bothersome.

    By all means…

  4. @ L, thanks so much! I'd love to make a living writing, but then, I guess a lot of bloggers would (and many do). LOL at the guy holding his . . . pants up.

    @ Trestin, thanks πŸ™‚

    @ Kingshamus, Trestin has a way of cutting right to the heart of the matter, and said very well what I was saying. πŸ˜‰ And yes, she is.

    @ Kerry, that's true of everything. They like the First Amendment when it applies to them, opposition to the president is “patriotic” when they do it–sedition when we do it, I could go on and on, but you know the story. πŸ™‚

    @ Nicholas, thanks for your great comment. I agree, it seems that she didn't even think about what she was saying . . . why Jewish people left Germany and Poland in the first. Shameful.

    @ Yukio, exactly. It's not a blanket protection and wasn't meant to be. The only thing that it means is that the government can't outlaw certain speech (though they have and do). Some people do hide behind “free speech” in an attempt to silence others … usually people who are freely expressing their objection to objectionable speech. I have just as much right to call Helen Thomas a vile old hateful hag as she does to say what she said. And I feel that it's more than an exercise of my free speech but my responsibility as a member of society and as a citizen. She can say whatever, but that doesn't mean that the rest of us have to sit mute and listen to it.

    It's the same deliberate misreading that they use to banish God and religion from society. There is no “separation of church and state,” only that the government itself cannot set up a state religion. Big difference. And in this misreading, they actually infringe on my right to freely exercise my religion. Bahstids.

    And yes, when they're not hiding behind “free speech,” they are hiding behind “artistic expression” . . . like when it's okay for a child to be a stripper because “dance” is an “artistic expression.” Um, yeah, right.

    heh, by all means.

  5. Ya, you know, it always kills me when people expect to be treated nicely because they have “freedom of speech”. They forget the unwritten “freedom of negative reaction” that Americans ALSO enjoy.

    By the way, for reasons I cannot go into…I do believe that Helen Thomas might be psychic.

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