Unfortunately, the more I read the news, the more instances I see of free speech being eroded in America and around the world.
What’s worse is that some of the most egregious examples are happening in our schools and places of higher learning.
As a teacher of both speech and history, I can attest that limiting free spot and independent thinking is not what a divided democracy needs. It needs more of every kind of speech.
It needs conservative speech on liberal campuses.
It needs progressive speech on conservative campuses.
It needs religious speech in public spaces.
It needs secular speech in religious places.
It needs narrow-minded speech. It needs broad-minded speech.
It needs hate speech in order to understand love speech.
Political speech needs to be one of the widest of all, while it seems that both parties are inviting fewer and fewer voices to the table with the Democrats going all uber-left and the Republicans reacting with opposite force.
Free speech is the second right enshrined in our bill of rights, right after the first right which is what? Religious freedom. I find it interesting that those two are coupled together as number 1 and two. Coincidence? I think not. In case you haven’t reviewed it in a while, here’s how the first amendment starts:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, …”
Wait. Why did I suddenly veer off and start talking about religion if I’m focused on free speech, aren’t we talking about different things? Not really. Let me quote one of our founding fathers concerning these first two rights. He said:
“One of the amendments to the Constitution… expressly declares that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,’ thereby guarding in the same sentence and under the same words, the freedom of religion, of speech, and of the press; insomuch that whatever violates either throws down the sanctuary which covers the others.”
In his words, whatever violates the one also violates the other. What incredibly powerful words! We all need to guarantee the right of everyone’s free speech, especially in regards to religious matters. Who is advocating such a stance that would surely step on some toes in today’s society? Hint: he has a memorial in Washington D.C. opposite the White House. Yes, it was Thomas Jefferson who said these words (Kentucky Resolutions 1798).
Our democracy needs more speech. More debate. More argument. More opinions. More freedom of speech. More freedom of religion. An open society is one that will self-regulate itself with countering points of view and rigorous debate.
So whenever you see someone’s speech being snuffed out, do what you can to defend their right to say it, even if you whole-heartedly disagree. It’s one of the great hallmarks of American society. Just ask Thomas Jefferson.