Freedom of Speech and Charlottesville

“I Disapprove of What You Say, But I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It.” This quote is attributed to Evelyn Beatrice Hall, a British historian.

This quote takes us back to a time when freedom of expression was taken seriously.

Alas, we live in an age when people are easily offended and this freedom of speech is being set aside to protect those overly-sensitive souls who cannot bear hearing something they disagree with.

What took place in Charlottesville was a small group of people exercising that freedom of expression. I, as a grand majority of Americans, disagreed with them. But they do have the right to express themselves. That freedom of expression is in the Bill of Rights which was added to the Constitution to protect our freedom. You remember the Constitution? It is the like the instructions with IKEA furniture, not always easy to understand (look at our presidential election) but useful. The Constitution explains how our country is supposed to function. Freedom of expression is one of the guaranteed rights that we all have.

Are we ready to throw out that right of free speech? If we do, what do we throw out next? Freedom of the press or freedom of religion? I know a lot of people want to throw out the right to bear arms, but again when you throw out one right where do you stop?

This subject needs to be addressed. We are on a slippery slope here. It is not just Charlottesville. It is university campuses across our nation that are refusing to allow freedom of expression.

So, how should we react when someone expresses something we do not agree with? Well, we could get angry and fight with them. Oh, that means we are denying them that freedom of speech. Some would say freedom of speech is fine but not for everyone. We have to make an exception for racists or for Al Gore or for __________________ (fill in the blank, everyone has someone they think deserves to be muzzled). But remember that pesky Constitution and it’s Bill of Rights…

If we are not going to get angry and fight, then how should we react when someone expresses something we do not agree with? Well, we could follow the example of Martin Luther King and Gandhi, non-violent protest. And they both applied this means of reaction when confronted with violent people who wanted to take away their freedom of expression!

Imagine a movement of people who disagree with racists which organizes a counter-demonstration by lining the streets, silently and non-violently, turning their backs to the racists to show their disagreement.

If that had been done, the press would have reported; “A group of racists marched today in Charlottesville. Non-violent protesters lined the street in silence. Afterwards everyone went home.” No big deal. And a much better outcome.

I think that would have been the intelligent way to show disagreement while respecting their constitutional right of expression.

Or even better, just ignore them. Let them have their little rally and say, “You guys are so lame we’re not even going to waste our time on you.’ Again, no big deal.

And that is exactly what this event in Charlottesville should have been, no big deal.