We Americans cherish this right and will defend it to our death. But, I am wondering whether we should rethink this freedom. Are we free to speak hatefully? Are we free to let people mock each other? Isn’t this a form of bullying? Where is that age-old idea of grace and acceptance?
If you check out the detail here in this part of our Constitution you will see that the freedom of speech and expression is not absolute. There are common limitations or boundaries to freedom of speech that relate to libel, slander, obscenity, pornography, sedition, incitement, fighting words, hate speech, classified information, copyright violation, trade secrets, food labeling, non-disclosure agreements, privacy, dignity, public security, and perjury.
The central idea here is that we are free to speak our mind, but not free to harm others with this freedom. After all, where is civility and deference? And how can we listen when we are trying to hurt another person?
Deference is an interesting word. It means evidencing humility and respect. Yep, that is certainly at the root of it all, and is conspicuously missing from today’s dialogues for sure. The key idea expressed in the Old Testament that sums up our relationships is to walk humbly and seek mercy. (Micah 6:8)
The key principle to me is that we have the freedom TO speak, but should be warned that this freedom comes with the responsibility to do no harm. We all must realize the power of words to hurt people and permanently damage relationships. There are consequences to hateful speech that deteriorate society and discourage others from redeeming efforts with their own lives.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, says it all as it takes a closer look at antisemitism. Plus recent actions by Disney emphasize the same principles.
We are free to speak but not free to be hurtful.