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What About This . . .?

By Wayne William Cipriano

I heard the City of Springfield (SMSU?) is considering installing more regulations limiting more speech in regards to more “pro­tected” groups.

Those who would attack people, even verbally, on character­istics they cannot change (Italians, the left-handed, the blue-eyed, the short, the ugly), demonstrate a pau­city of intellectual development all the more shocking in view of the extensive and free education each of us is offered here.

Demeaning, belittling, humiliating people based on things they can change but choose not to (Demo­crats, misogynists, phrenologists, belligerent thespians) may be neither polite nor tasteful but begins to ad­dress the purpose of and need for FREE SPPECH: to “educate”, to “reason”, to “criticize”, to “im­prove”.  Discourteous?  Without doubt. Requiring legal limitation?  Absolutely not!!

Limiting speech, except in those extremely rare circumstances where speech results in IMMEDIATE and ILLEGAL behavior (falsely shout­ing “fire” in a crowded theatre is the most frequently used example) is very dangerous to freedom.

It is also a clear violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Period. The Amendment doesn’t specify dis­courteous speech, inaccurate speech, not even political speech. It says, “Congress shall make no law…  abridging the freedom of speech”.

Over the years various legislatures and courts have limited speech in response to one special interest group or another, usually speech that is scary foolish, derogatory, offen­sive, maliciously inaccurate, etc.  It may have been our innate civility as a people or our disinclination toward confrontation or some other reasons that have allowed those limitations on speech to continue.  They were wrong regardless of how many other tenets of our Constitution have been “modified”.  Freedom of speech IS different.

Generally, violating the Constitu­tion for even the “best” of reasons produces more problems than it solves.  Violating the guarantee of free speech is the most perilous of all Constitutional violations in that it interrupts communication amongst citizens – the first necessity of self-government.

Legally stopping those who would say a person is ugly, stupid, fat or indulges in questionable hygienic practices exactly like those of a cer­tain group, may not seem like the first step to the destruction of our political system.  That’s protecting good taste or good people, and only bad stuff should be banned.  But who draws the line between frivolous hurtful bad speech that must be controlled and necessary hurtful bad speech that must be heard?

Shall I draw that line for you while resisting the line you impose on me?

Speech must not be limited even when it just violates the rules of civil discourse, let alone silences seriously held but unpopular even pernicious opinions.  And, most of all, speech must not be limited when produced by the truly wacko- because once again, who decides?

Free speech is essential to a free people.  Our education occurs by hearing all speech, even though it con­fuses, angers, disgusts, offends, and sometimes disagrees with our most cherished beliefs.

Limiting speech for whatever good-intentioned and morally defen­sible reasons is slow suicide for our Republic.

As I finished this piece I became aware of the school shooting of December 14 –– shocked more than most because I once lived in and worked in that town.

As I heard every media anchor, every reporter, every weatherman, every sportscaster, and every DJ spinning Christmas carols wax on about the incident, I thought of the abomination re-lived each time a victim’s loved-one heard the news retold, over and over and over.  Are these media people expressing their uncontrollable empathy?  Are they promoting their careers?  What about a writer who incorporates such terrible devastation in to an argument supporting virtually unre­strained speech?

Should there be some controls to limit what can be said, and how, when, for how long, and by whom – to protect those who have already suffered such an incompre­hensible horror?

Who should decide?  You?  Me?