Free speech is an issue which gets a lot of attention from the fringe, but is rarely seriously dealt with by those whose right to speak freely is always well respected. In an AP US History class, my teacher was discussing the Bill of Rights, and the discussion of free speech for unpopular opinions obviously surfaced. I was surprised to hear so many people saying that they didn’t think unpopular groups deserved to have the right to speak or assemble.
The Westboro Baptist Church came up, among other groups, and the teacher said that no one would be upset if somehow they lost their right to say the things they say. I was first confused by his extremely loose interpretation of the first amendment, but I would not in fact be glad to hear that their rights had been usurped. I am fully in support of gay rights and gay marriage because I feel it isn’t anyone’s business but those involved with the marriage (I also oppose the idea of the federal government infringing on state business), but I also think that someone who wants to criticize my view should be able to.
I am not claiming some kind of slippery-slope argument whereby the government will take all our rights if they are allowed to take the rights of the extremists, I simply believe that everyone should be able to say what they want, short of (possibly including) libel. Freedom of speech is something that most people take for granted because they do not use it. Those of us who speak our minds on the internet to be viewed by five or ten people are just barely using this freedom. I speak from the standpoint of an American, but most reasonably developed societies have similar, if not identical, ideas on this subject.
By ignoring the potential of our ability to speak our minds to the government, our religions, our employers, or one another, we are throwing away the right to guide our way of life and its growth. Free speech and reasonable, productive dialogue go hand-in-hand, and maybe the lack of respect for free speech is what is leading to the decline of reasoned dialogue on both the internet and the national (and international) stage.
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