The first thing everyone – especially those in today’s Republican Party - should understand is that “free speech” and “the First Amendment” are not interchangeable terms. Free speech is assumed to exist, while the First Amendment requires that government protect that pre-existing right for everyone. That means everyone, at least since the 14th Amendment.
The First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech from intrusion by the government, which indicates the right is pretty much assumed going in. You have a right to say anything you like, or express yourself in any way you wish, up to the point where what you say infringes on the rights of others. Hence the famous admonition that freedom of speech doesn’t allow anyone to falsely yell “fire” in a crowded theater and cause a panic that puts lives at risk. If the result of your speech creates a hazard for others, you have crossed the line. And you have done so for a very basic reason; everyone’s rights matter, and are in balance with everyone else’s rights.
The right wingers who make up the bulk of the Republican Party these days don’t really understand the concept of rights for the most part. For some reason, they seem to believe the only rights anyone has are those spelled out in the Bill of Rights, and they think anything not specifically mentioned is a “privilege.” Consider that almost all of them refer to driving as a “privilege,” when it’s not. By their logic, it can’t be a right because we issue licenses and make people buy insurance, which is absurd.
But the one concept they don’t understand at all is freedom of speech, and as a result, they seem to operate under some very strange false assumptions. For example, they seem to think they have the right to say and do anything they want, but no one else has the right to say anything they find offensive. They also seem to think the right to free speech should come without consequence, which is also ridiculous. You have the right to stand in the middle of Harlem and yell the ”n-word” at the top of your lungs, but you don’t have a right to do so without response. Just as you have the right to say something offensive, others have the right to express their offense. That doesn’t mean they have a right to respond by punching you in the mouth, but the judge will be less sympathetic to the assault if it was provoked.
Right wing Republicans also seem to think that any negative response to their speech is a violation of their free speech, which is another myth. You’ve seen this. A right winger can make any offensive remark he or she wants about President Obama, but when someone objects, the original speaker cries about a violation of their Forst Amendment rights. When a right wing talk show host calls a woman a “slut” on air, and a group forms that tries to take out his advertisers, it’s really not a violation of that talk show host’s rights; it’s the group exercising their right to call him out on what he said. In other words, that talk show host has the right to say whatever he wants, for the most part, but so does everyone else. And they have every right to demand that he be removed from the air. To do so is not a violation of his free speech rights. See, if he gets fired, or loses his show, he still has the right to say what he wants. See how that works? Go write a book and complain all you want. Make speeches and get paid.
Ask “Dr.” Laura Schlessinger how this works. .
For far too many years, ”Dr.” Laura gave half-assed behavioral advice to people who deserved everything she dished out. After all, when you call a radio talk show host for personal advice, you deserve what you get. No one really cared much, even when she became increasingly hypocritical and combative with her audience, and ever more shrill, politically speaking. But one day a few years back, she decided to use the “n-word” eleven times while speaking to a black woman, who remained very calm and reasonable throughout the diatribe. The audio of the infamous phone call spread far and wide, and the shock and outrage spread with it. Within days, “Dr.” Laura announced that she was ending her own radio show – several months later – and went all over the right wing media to declare that she was abandoning her radio show to protect her right to free speech, which she claimed was under attack.
Typical right wing claptrap. See, this is what happened:
- She said the “n-word” eleven times to a black woman, on airwaves that they black woman owns as much as she does. Her producer chose not to initiate the delay that all radio talk shows have to “dump” inappropriate things said by callers, guests and sometimes, the host. In other words, she was not censored.
- People complained loudly about the issue, which means they were expressing themselves, and exercising their right to free speech.
- No one even pulled the plug. She couldn’t stand others expressing their opinions, so she ended her own show, and did so four full months after her rant.
- She later wrote a best-selling book about the entire fiasco, and went all over the media telling them about how her free speech rights were being violated, without noting the irony.
She said the “n-word,” and no one stopped her. People complained about it. She wrote a book and went all over the place complaining about her self-imposed plight, and then hawked the book everywhere. Everyone exercised their right to free speech.
In the case of “Dr.” Laura, she knows her right to free speech wasn’t violated. But her right wing Republican following suffer from such a high level of ignorance, they’ll believe anything she tells them. These are people, after all, who call in and tell their troubles to a judgmental stranger on their radios, to get advice on how to solve personal problems. They’re not brilliant.
This kind of thing is actually quite common on the right. Caribou Barbie (Sarah Palin), for example, has become notorious for posting nonsense on her Facebook page, and then claiming those who object to it are against the First Amendment. Who can forget the time she posted a video on the same day President Obama was to arrive in Tucson to speak at a memorial to the victims of the shooting in Tucson that almost killed former Representative Gabrielle Giffords. The video she posted sought to defend her right to place crosshairs over Congressional districts of Congresspersons she wanted to defeat in the 2010 election. This, despite the fact that no one ever claimed that she had n right to do so. The issue was always whether she should have, and whether she was contributing to the lack of civility in political discourse. She was asked to take a small measure of responsibility for creating an atmosphere where some think such things are okay.
Here’s the problem, right wing Republicans; with rights come responsibilities. It’s like anything else in society; in order to get, you also have to give. You have the right to operate a motor vehicle on a public street, as long as you can demonstrate a minimal amount of competence and responsibility on the road. It’s not a privilege, it’s a RIGHT, that can only be taken away if you break the law and put others in danger, and after due process. With that right comes a responsibility to drive safely, and not put the rest of us in danger.
You have the right to say anything you want, but words often have consequences, and you have no right to avoid the consequences of your words. In fact, you have a responsibility to society to accept the consequences of your words or actions. You also have to understand that, while you have a right to free speech, so does everyone else. When you offer up an opinion, and others exercise their free speech rights as a rebuttal, that rebuttal does not constitute an abrogation of your free speech rights. When you walk around whining about your free speech rights being “violated” because someone else thinks you should shut up, or lose your radio show or newspaper column, you just make yourself look stupid. Everyone has the right to express an opinion, not just you.