Saturday, February 18, 2006

Thoughts On Free Speech

 There’s an interesting polarity before us on the issue of free speech, a basic and dear freedom for those of us in the free world.

On the one hand you have the Danish cartoonist who drew and published a cartoon of the Muslim prophet Mohammed with a bomb for a turban. He has the right to draw any cartoon he pleases.

In response, Muslims in several countries took to the streets in often-violent protests against the cartoons, burning buildings and flags, calling for beheadings of certain individuals, and other grisly activities. They also have the right, under the free speech model, to protest, although in some countries there is a limit to what behavior one may indulge in during a protest.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that speech shall be free. It does not guarantee freedom only for speech that is in good taste, or for speech that is responsible or reasonable. However, in the U.S. some speech is ruled illegal. You cannot yell, “fire!” in crowded public places (unless there is actually a fire) because it would likely result in injury to other people. You cannot publicly slander or libel another person. You cannot indulge in speech that incites others to commit violence or infringe public order. And, you cannot indulge in speech giving aid and comfort to the enemy—treason.

Examples of speech that is irresponsible and unreasonable are abundant in the U.S., most of it directed toward George Bush and the war in Iraq. Some of us who cherish freedom of speech and hold our country in high regard are put in the position of supporting the right of people to say what they please while at the same time being repulsed by the reprehensible things people say. We regard some of these comments as harmful to our nation’s image and to Americans—including our troops—abroad, and subversive to our ability to effectively fight terrorism and protect the country from additional terrorist attacks. Some of this rash and ill-considered speech is, in my opinion, treasonous.

Those indulging in this subversion of the national interest either do not understand that they are hurting their country, or they do not care. The former are not thinking clearly, if at all; the latter are consumed with hatred for George Bush/Republicans/conservatives or shameless self-interest.

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