Thursday, September 6, 2012

Freedom of Speech vs Freedom

By Delinda McCann Author Lies That Bind

A few weeks ago, several things happened to make me sit and think seriously about our right to free speech.

The first event occured when I decided I must un-friend a former colleague on facebook.  It sounds like a small event, but it troubled me.  The colleague had a habit of posting quotes, quips and cartoons that were demeaning to a certain group of people.  She applauded name-calling, critical-judgmental ideas, and the public use of words that I sent my children to their rooms for using.  The strange part of this event was that I didn’t particularly disagree with her views and values.  I was disgusted with how she expressed those views and values. 

I also felt that by continuing to accept this person’s manner of speaking and example of name-calling and put-downs as humor, I was accepting another issue. Demeaning speech sets a horrid example for our children.  If we can say anything we want even when it infringes on the rights and dignity of others, why cannot our children bully the kid with disabilities?  It makes the bully feel good and powerful. 

But this is the nature of freedom of speech.  My colleague was free to express herself any way she chooses.  If I don’t like it, I can walk away or unfriend her.  The problem is that we don’t always have the option of walking away.

Shortly after my uncomfortable decision to unfriend a colleague, Rep. Akin blessed us with his remarks about legitimate rape and women’s bodies.  Setting aside the insensitivity of his comments and my emotional reaction to his lack of empathy for victims of a crime, his comments about women’s bodies were outright lies.  Some of my friends tried to tell me he was trying to prevent abortions in making these comments.  What?  Does your perceived morality of your cause give you permission to spread lies?  Does the right to free speech include the right to use lies to influence the law of the land?  Does the right to free speech give a lawmaker the right to condone rape if the victim is not beaten within and inch of her life? Is that the free speech that is covered in the constitution?

How do you walk away from a lawmaker whose lies can influence laws that affect the most private parts of our lives and bodies?  Where does the right to free speech end, and violation of the rights of others begin? 

While women of the US were shaking their heads or fists over Rep. Akin, half-way around the world, in Russia a shock-rock band, Pussy Riot was on trial for trespass and exposing their privates in a church.  Many celebrities and the news media jumped on the trial as a freedom of speech issue.  What?  I saw it as a trespass and indecent exposure issue.  I agree with the principle of civil disobedience and have even participated it. However, even in a case of civil disobedience I would give the bystander who is offended by my actions or strongly disagrees with me the right to walk away.

After watching the security video of the Pussy Riot demonstration, it occurred to me that if this group of women had come into my church and performed exactly the same act, in Russian, which nobody would understand, my pastor would call the police, just before he had a major anxiety attack.  The women would be arrested, charged, and, if they did not make a plea-bargain, they would be tried.  Yet, the event was reported and supported as a freedom of speech issue unique to Russia, as if displaying one’s crotch in church was acceptable in “free” countries.  So what about the rule of allowing others to walk away?   In this case it is possible that visitors to the cathedral could cover their children’s eyes and leave the scene of...well…the scene, but the nuns and priests, who work there did not have that option.  Furthermore the bystanders had come to a private place, a sanctuary, where they ought to be able to reasonably expect a crotch-free opportunity to pray.

Freedom of speech is and should be one of our most cherished rights.  The problem with our current cult of free speech is that we allow freedom of expression to overshadow Freedom—with a capital eff.

How do we restore a balance of liberty for everyone?  We need to start thinking and questioning.  Is this person’s speech infringing on someone else’s rights?  Is this the truth?  Would I allow my child to talk that way?  Do others have the freedom to walk away if they disagree with what the speaker is saying or the way in which it is said?    

The abuse of free speech calls for outrage.  It calls for us to walk away or un-friend.  It calls for individuals to not only turn off their TV, but to write to the sponsors of shows that support lies and demeaning speech.  Most of all, it calls for each of us to stop and ask ourselves some serious questions about what we say, and how, and where we say it.  


  1. When freedom of speech involves extreme vulgarities or hateful comments, it is disturbing. I even feel hurtful gossip is overused today. Just look at all of those tabloids. You bring up some thought provoking points, Delinda. By the way, I had to unfriend someone on Facebook once. She kept making judgemenatl comments on my posts. Who needs that!

  2. Freedom of Speech is our right as an American but I am sure our forefathers would cringe if they had ever known that would include they ways that are currently being practiced in this world. Immorality, abuse, and actions that are so called freedom of speech-has become a law without any governing thought process.
    Thank you for the words we have probably all liked to have said. Your freedom of speech is welcomed in our home any time.
    Many blessings for this post.

  3. I agree with you Delinda. And whats funny/ironic I had this whole reply typed into this box with some of my pros and cons and then the PC's screen went black and when it came back my reply was not there! FOS should be monitored, it is against the law to yell fire in a movie theater, so why can't it be in violation when the speech hurts others as well.

  4. Delinda, you make some good points, There is a fine line between free speech and disruptive, rude, crude comments. This country, based upon freedon did not, in the beginning, allow what we allow today. Women were not allowed to speak out and those who did were placed in stockades, healers were burned as witches and then there was slavery. Still we need to guard freedom well, because when one freedom is taken away from us , all freedom erodes and soon we are living under tyranny--very close to that today. I find the most effective way most times is to do what you did--get the offensive person away from you and yours. Unless people are being harmed, ignoring the offense is often effective. Great, thought-provoking post!!

  5. Amen, Delinda. I agree with every word of your beautifully written post.

  6. Your post raises a question that will always be with us, Delinda, as long as we enshrine Freedom as a basic value in our type of society. We have the same problem in Australia, of course, with public hate-speech being hurled at various minority groups, and with widespread bullying among both children and adults. Whilst most people probably want to avoid hurting others, to attempt a solution through legislation as the Australian government did with the Racial Vilification Act seems to cause more problems than it eliminates. I feel that we should deal with as much of this as possible at the person-to-person level and help our children learn to do likewise. This seems to be your answer too.

  7. Great post, Delinda! Whatever happened to common sense and a sense of decency? We have gone so far over the top to be "politically correct" that it seems we have lost all semblance of any common sense. Looking forward to your future posts!

  8. Thanks for your comments everybody. I agree that in most cases we cannot legislate what constitutes free speech. Hopefully, laws about behavior in the workplace and trespassing help protect those who cannot escape the encroachment of others.

    I think it is really the responsibility of individuals to call-out and condemn those who violate our sense of decency and honesty.

    (Note: I installed Chrome. I think it will let me post on blogspot. Yay.)

    1. Sheesh the above post was from me, Delinda. Chrome may let me post but it won't identify who I am.

  9. Hi Delinda,

    This is one of the reasons I follow you.
    I am happy to learn your views here, and can only imagine what the friend, who you unfriended was speaking of. I believe that you did the right thing.
    I have unfriended friends AND young relatives who are still trying to find themselves without an apology. If they are vulgar or demeaning, they are gone from my FB page. I have warned young relatives about their speech and grammar. This to me, represents a person and their character.

    Let me share this with you: One of our Ministers for Young children at our church put a picture of our President -- Commander in Chief on his FB page with clown face. Yes, our President had a multicolored face, bushy hair and a large red clown nose. I responded and said, "Oh no. Not our President/Commander in Chief!"
    Now, of course this minister has the right to express his thoughts about his political views, but remember, he is one of our ministers of children at our church. My daughter is 10 years old and attends some of the fun activities that this minister puts together for children.
    Now I have to wonder about his heart and Christianity. It makes me wonder about many things.
    I happened to run into him the other Sunday, but he couldn't look at me.
    As an advpcate for bullying, diversity and love, this makes me cringe.

    1. Yes, I think the whole love your neighbor thing must embrace diversity and take a hard look at the bullying issue and the examples we set for children - Delinda

  10. Great article to share. Let's all spread the word! Bette

  11. A movie made in the U.S. against Islam is circulating all over the world and causing violent protests in the middle east. It contributed to 4 deaths and maybe more. I don't think our forefathers meant for anything like this movie (free speech?) to be tolerated. We need "do no harm" laws to stop the abuse of the free speech freedom. In Christianity we believe in "love thy neighbor." I think that means all people. There is no peace without love.