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Freedom of speech

By Jim Killebrew

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[June 28, 2014]  Remember when the riots in Libya and Egypt continued, and even expanded to other countries in the region, many in the Current Administration were proclaiming the cause was a YouTube video someone had posted that denigrated Muhammad. The ensuing argument drifted into one tributary toward America's practice of ensuring its citizens can engage in free speech. Some have taken that issue in the direction of restricting that speech, while others have forcefully voiced their opinion that freedom of speech should not be abridged. My initial question was, "I wonder if we are witnessing firsthand the beginnings of the decimation of free speech in the United States?"

Perhaps some middle ground opinion on the subject was expressed by others. Some people have stated they believe people have free speech, but should not say things that might inflame others or hurt their feelings. That view maintains the individual has free speech but should self-restrict voicing hurtful, inflammatory words that are known to incite violent behavior. I believe that too; a person may have freedom to say something but perhaps should not say it for a variety of reasons.

In America we have enjoyed a fairly well defined freedom of speech based on the First Amendment to the United States Constitution: " 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; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

That specific freedom has several elements. We are free to worship the way we desire, and are free from being coerced into some kind of state-run religion. Which means that we are tolerant of each person's preference in the mode of worship. We exercise that freedom of worship, or not; it is our choice. Accordingly, we are free to speak our mind in not only a verbal fashion in conversation or speeches, but in making statements of belief that we hold on a personal basis. It extends to what we write as well; not just letters between family or friends, but what we put in print publically. Not only that, the freedom extends to our joining together with others who might agree with our positions of various freedoms. Lastly, we are free to make petitions to the Government when we have a grievance and wish to be heard.

Therefore, when I am talking about the American freedom of speech, it takes on a special meaning that has been rare in the history of the world; and is rare in many parts of today's world. What I think the American freedom of speech as afforded in our Constitution is "freedom to speak without fear of retribution from the government." That is the reason the burning of the American flag, redacting portions of the Holy Bible, Crucifixes sealed in a jar of human urine are all repulsive and rejected by most reasonable people, but it is still considered free speech in America. However, speaking out against the repulsiveness of the content of that free speech is also consider free speech in America. Rather than people being punished for the content of their free speech, they should be persuaded by reasonable debate to consider alternatives. Repression only allows the growth of totalitarianism.

Actually everybody in the world has the freedom to speak any words that come to mind, because, really, it is human nature. It is the yearning world-wide to be free; but if you had lived in Nazi Germany in the 1930's you might self-restrict that freedom to either speak against Gestapo brutality against Jewish people, or for the humane and equal treatment of the Jewish people. To speak out about those things would have likely brought the retribution of death for each position. In the 1700's in the Colonies you were free to speak your mind against the British King, but there was retribution for doing so; sometimes even death. Our experiment in democracy has changed from the rule of the king to the rule of for and by the people. The people decided we should have freedom of speech without the fear of the government coming after us for punishment.

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Obviously, in other parts of the world, that freedom is curtailed by those who are in power and refuse to have anything spoken against them. We fought a Revolution and World Wars to maintain that freedom of speech without retribution from the government. We have grown to believe it is a fundamental right that has been granted by God through the gift of choice He has endowed through His Grace. Can we abuse that right? Of course! But does it deserve the death penalty? My belief is, No! At least not in this world.

Now we are at a crossroads in our experiment of democracy. We have an Administration that seemingly by observing what is going on in our current government, is using federal agencies to unleash their power against ordinary citizens and organizations who hold different viewpoints not in agreement with the thinking of the Executive Branch of our government. We can list the alphabet agencies, NSA, FBI, CIA, DOJ, EPA, IRS and others that have been granted the authority to spy on citizens, punish citizens and organizations for conservative beliefs and actions, place policies of tax burdens against energy to destroy industries, place citizens in perpetual debt, bring lawsuits against state officials for trying to uphold the laws regarding illegal immigration, spying on foreign heads of state and going after private news agencies and personal reporters for broadcasting news counter to the liberal thought.

For sure, to the untrained eye and ordinary citizen, on the surface, this seems like an abuse of power. A government elected official who feels free to target political enemies, send the power and force of a tax-funded government agency with its full force and power down on a private citizen has overstepped his bounds and needs to be checked. There is a balance of power between the three major branches of government. When that balance of power is abused, it is up to the other branches to bring those fracturing the balance back in line with the Constitution. When we go far astray of compliance with the Constitution we cease to be a Republic or Democracy. At that point we become a totalitarian state run by despots and join the other nations in the world who have violated their own people to subjugate them into a form of slavery.

Our responsibility as good citizens of our Constitutional government is to hold the elected and appointed government officials accountable for the interest of the people. Freedoms are not simply given by the government; they are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."


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