Copyright © 2005 Henrietta W. Hay
Freedom of Speech--except?
September 23, 2005
Since the beginning of recorded history people have been trying to impose their individual values on what others think and say. The wittiness of Socrates and Aristophenes were suppressed in Greece in the 4th Century. Socrates drank the hemlock because he was accused of "corrupting the young with ideas of freedom." Dante's "Divine Comedy" was burned in Italy and Galileo was forced to recant on his knees his theory that the planets circulate around the sun The story is that he whispered, "They really do" as he died.
The 55 men who sat down together in the City of Brotherly Love to construct a new nation thought they could make it different here. Each one of them had deeply held ideas of how a new baby country should be run. But soon they all realized that it wasn't going to work unless "certain unalienable rights" were protected, so they added the bill of rights. One of them guaranteed that "The Congress shall make no law "prohibiting the freedom of speech."
Freedom of speech has been one of my very basic beliefs all my life and it still is. But modern communication -- radio, television, telephone, e-mail __ has brought some troubling questions.
When is freedom of speech absolute and when is it in doubt? The standard tongue-in-cheek answer is that a person cannot yell "fire" in a crowded theater. But is it allowed when the crowded theater involves possible damage to our country? I think I need my friend the philosopher, because this is a philosophical question.
This is a current question because of the recent comments by Pat Robertson and Representative Tom Tancredo.
One morning back in August Pat Robertson was ranting on his 700 club, and he came up with this gem, concerning Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela: "You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war." He apologized -- sort of -- but as an American I would hesitate to visit Venezuela right now.
Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado (I'm not bragging) suggested that if we were attacked we could bomb Mecca. And then last week he objected to creating the memorial to the Flight 93 dead in the shape of a crescent because it would make it a memorial to the terrorists, who were Muslims.
C. U Professor Ward Churchill made the year's most personally obnoxious statement when he suggested that 9/11 was in retaliation against the financial workers in the World Trade Towers.
Are any of these statements illegal according to the First Amendment?
Much as I hate them all, and deplore those who made them, the answer comes out, "Yes, but." maybe.
Anybody can say anything, if he is willing to accept whatever consequences may follow. But it is a very slippery slope involving personal responsibility It is also a matter of ethics.
The Founding Fathers knew their baby country would become a diverse people with different ideas and beliefs and that we would have to tolerate other people's ideas.
So OK, (arrgghh) Pat can make all the outrageous statements he wants.
Freedom of speech lives after 214 years.