Too many Americans like the idea of free speech, so long as they agree with what is being said

Free speech has been synonymous with America since our founding. Free expression is one of many great things about America. Being able to protest our government without reprisal, going out in public and espousing a particular belief, supporting a candidate (or not supporting a candidate) are all covered by our guiding principles found in our U.S. Constitution. And it is nothing new, after all, the Magna Carta was crafted in 1215.

040:365 Free Speech.
Photo Credit: John Nakamura Remy

But what often happens, some people get offended by all of that freedom. Many people are citing President Donald Trump as being highly critical of media outlets who profile him and his administration, as he says, unfairly. At least Trump is not putting them in jail as would Abraham Lincoln. You see, notions of fake news are nothing new in our constitutional republic and those who are offended by someone’s free speech often go down the wrong road of trying to inhibit that speech.

Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the notion that simply because someone is offended, it does not limit one’s ability to exercise another’s public speech. When it comes to religion, a government entity can allow religion to come into the government nexus, but it cannot show favoritism to any one religion.

For example, here in Boca Raton, Fla, the city government is considering reversing its historical practice of temporarily allowing religious organizations to put symbols of their religion in city-owned Sanborn Square each December. The reason? Someone chose to exercise his free speech rights and offered a contrasting symbol of the “normal” Christian birth of Jesus and the Jewish menorah. Everything was fine until someone offered an “unpopular” religion, so now it is suddenly being proposed that there will not be any displays permitted. The person behind the Satanic symbol that caused all the controversy last year was making the political statement that the city government should not have been allowing the displays in the first place.

Similarly, many state and local governments would hold a prayer before their official meetings and this is against our Constitution unless they offer different religions the same on a rotating basis. It cannot just be a Christian or Jewish “prayer” before official government meetings, it must be open to all religions. This is what made Chaz Stevens and others around the nation did a couple years ago, as a “minion of Satan” offering his invocation before local government meetings. Most city governments ended the practice of praying before their meetings or have at least opened it up to other religions as to finally be lawful under the U.S. Constitution. Though I can say as a frequent guest at city council meetings, this is not always the case. Stevens was simply trying to point out that the government should not be showing favoritism toward any particular religion and for so long as elected officials inject religion into government, it must be non-discriminatory. Afterall, while Christians and Jews make up a large swath of Americans, a near equal number of Atheists, Islamists, Buddhists, and over 300 other religions make up the rest of America.

We have even heard recent talk that some people should not be allowed on television if they support President Trump or his positions. This type of thinking is the complete opposite of what free speech is all about. Media outlets should offer opposing viewpoints on their television stations and on their websites so the public can decide for themselves what is best. It is not up to news media companies to parse through and edit footage to offer up a particular viewpoint to the general public. It is up to news outlets to offer unbiased information from all sides. This is Journalism 101. But we rarely see that in today’s media and that is unfortunate. American journalism is on life support.

Sadly, we see students being disciplined at schools around the country simply for espousing a contrasting opinion. Ultimately, thanks to organizations such as FIRE, these overboard decisions by school systems are held accountable. But such discipline should not exist for a student simply putting for their opinions. If not on a college campus, then where can a young person get the intellectual growth necessary to be a productive human being exposed to multiple points of view?

Another issue on today’s college campuses seems to be people wanting to shut down debates or speeches by those with opposing views. This has been a dramatic upswing this past year where speakers have been shouted down and physical threats have been made if they step foot on campus. OK, so you disagree with what they are saying; you can choose to not attend or you can attend and then during the Q & A offer your strong objections to what they said. But shouting them down for having an opposing view is clearly un-American and doesn’t help public discourse.

Another local case was T.A. Wyner went up again the Florida parks system, challenging their “bathing suit rule” as being unconstitutional. This, because the rule violates state law which allows one being nude in a public place so long that area has been set aside for that purpose and it is not for sexual reasons. In 2003, Wyner, an avid naturist, held a performance art exhibit in MacArthur State Park which included her being without clothes in violation of the state park’s “bathing suit rule.” Although she was arrested, she took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won. Wyner should not have been arrested for two reasons, (1) she was actively expressing her first amendment right and (2) she was not violating state law.

So, while there are multitudes of people with which I may disagree, I enjoy exchanging ideas back and forth in a non-threatening, intellectual manner. It has been my experience, this works better than going out protesting a person instead of an issue or idea. Hopefully, when those exchanges happen, we both leave the conversation learning something. This is what free speech is all about in my opinion, and it is sad to see so many people willing to throw such discourse literally in the trash.

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Freedom

So many Americans feel we are already free and we have personal liberty. When you compare us with some other nations that would be a reasonable assumption however it is not the level of freedom we had in mind when the Declaration of Independence was crafted, nor our Constitution.

Having to retain a permit to exercise one’s First Amendment right to free speech is opposite of our founding father’s intent. A permit is asking permission from the government to do something. Applying to the government to speak can be denied or unreasonably restricted. This is not freedom.

Here in Florida in order to carry a gun one must obtain permission from the state government even though our Constitution contains the Second Amendment which states, “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Perhaps an argument could be made for those that have proven themselves unable to keep and bear arms responsibly, however shouldn’t the “people” have to prove such irresponsibility first? Lawabidng citizens must run through hoops and pay a fee to protect themselves, their families, and their properties from criminals who are unaffected by unreasonable firearms legislaton. This is not freedom.

When I was young and naive I used to think my personal property was as safe and secure as I made it, however this was and is not accurate. The fact is the government can still find out what, in my opinion, is far too much about you even if you have not been charged with a crime. It used to be innocent until proven guilty but now it has completely fliipped to the point of Americans feeling they are simply subjects of the government. Our Fourth Amendment was to protect us from such a change, however through circumstances that I fail to understand, our Fourth Amendment has been usurped by power-hungry legislators and a court system that is more interested in case law & foreign laws than simply referring back to our own Constitution. Our Constitution is suppose to be the Supreme Law of the Land, but it is not so. Unfortunately, the average American seems more concerned with who wins the next Dancing With the Stars or American Idol competitions than with their government [temporary] success in overriding their inalienable rights. Today a police officer can write his or her own warrent (not presenting it before a judge) to enter your home without any probable cause. This is not  freedom.

I could go on and on however it is clear we are not living the free life promised by our founding fathers via the Constitution. Time is long overdue to return true freedom to the American people.

It is time to truly care about who you vote to put in public office. Rather than listen to quick sound bites on the local or national television, take a few extra minutes and review the websites of the candidates to be on your ballot to find the candidate most in line with your values and who will most likely vote in favor of freedom when in office.