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.