The Cornering of Free Speech
By: Maria Ecrivain / Contributing AOJ journalist
Free Speech in America. What does it mean now? How has “political correctness” affected/effected free speech. “Safe Spaces” what has that to do with free speech? How can free speech be facilitated if certain speech is prohibited because it might be offensive to some? What exactly does the first amendment say: 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. Does society need to step back from the free speech debate and allow the conversation.
The evolution of freedom of speech in America has been a tumultuous road. The Supreme court has weighed in many times over the years. The two largest areas still in the gray concerning freedom of speech are items related to National Security and hate speech. There are other areas gaining traction on the speech radar though have historically have had their moments of glory and those areas are accountability of the media, intellectual property rights, and political speech. Speech’s freedom is constantly being tested by our always changing society. Which should inspire confidence in freedom of speech’s resilience in America but the intolerance to have a civilized discussion on ideological differences is having more profound impacts on what information is shared and disseminated.
Political correctness has taken on many meanings since its inception. In the earliest part of the 20th century it was used to reference having an unwavering opinion with in a prescribed to political party. In the 1970’s the term started taking on different meanings mostly used by feminist and progressives when referring to their ideologue to dissuade contradiction. By the 1990’s the term was used to put certain topics and issues as off limits because of their potential to offend. This evolution in the term political correctness from a term to minimize negative verbal retaliation to newer social concepts such as women’s rights to the current application to any negative comments about any progressive social concepts has undermined and eroded any value to the political correctness. Political correctness now prevents open and honest discussions of all opinions because someone, anyone or no one may be offended. (Many topics are and conversation are ended because someone thinks someone may be offended.) Example in a high school AP government class the discussion revolves around government spending. The teacher says to the class that it is conceited of Christians to oppose abortion and solicit for no funding from the government to be used to pay for abortions. Evaluate this statement. Is there an opportunity for freedom of discussion in this classroom? Is there a need for a safe space? Would all students feel confident to join this conversation and share their views? What if the teacher had made this statement instead that should government funds be spent on items that some tax payers are opposed to because of their religious affiliation? Now would this promote a truer conversation? What can we derive from this example. In a truly freedom of speech scenario a student in either class should feel able to voice their opinion but because of the strong political correctness that has saturated the freedom of speech the majority of people in the US are truly fearful to express their true opinions.
Safe Spaces on college campuses across the US has had an even larger negative impact on freedom of speech. Rather than have a conversation on the merits of a statement and have an open discourse about a statement made by someone, safe spaces make it okay to ignore the conversation. Safe spaces are breeding less freedom of speech. Opine, have strength of conviction. Just because someone espouses a view on an issue that offends you does not make the one verbalizing that statement a racist, bigot or insert any other adjective to complete the sentence. Perhaps no one has taken the time to engage in a substantive debate with them, forcing the merits of an alternative view into their world. Many times, it just takes a conversation. Safe spaces are growing the result that the only place many feel free to express their opinion is to themselves. Many people spend much of their time crafting their statements based on what they think people want to hear. Since so few are actually saying what they think what is being said is to appease a smaller and smaller number of vocal persons and potentially that group espousing their views are only parroting what they perceive as what the mass wants to hear. This cycle can only be broken by honest real substantive conversations where all views/ opinions are allowed to be expressed. Are all views and opinions going to sound great to everyone, let’s hope not!
How can free speech be facilitated if certain speech is prohibited because it might be offensive to some? This is a circular argument and that circle needs to be broken. With out having the conversation the circle will continue and nothing will ever change, as in no one’s opinions, ideologue, or behaviors will be swayed to be changed by reasonable discussions. We are forcing the annihilation of ideas with the prohibition of certain language because of offending someone. Be offended, offend its part of the foundational right of being an American. Let all speak, those that have something of value and merit will be heard, those whom do not will not. The right to speech is guaranteed to all not just those that can speak in “pretty prose.”
Social Media’s effect on freedom of speech is so complex a paragraph can hardly address the rippling effect of social media. The anonymity that social media provides allows for a more extreme vocalization to topics but again because of the anonymity the sincerity of those views are questionable. How are the opinions presented on social media’s many platforms facilitating congregation of like-minded users, thus eliminating their exposure to other views and limiting actual exchanges of differing opinions?
What exactly does the first amendment say in regards to freedom of speech. Congress shall make no law respecting an ….or abridging the freedom of speech. Abridging means to curtail one’s rights or privileges. Curtail means to reduce in extent or quantity; impose a restriction on. What is the pattern that is happening to the public’s ability to share their views or opinions? Regardless of the one’s views they should be allowed to express them even if they do not match with what is espoused as the majorities views or opinions.
The cornering of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is being boxed in from all angles by a lack of willingness of people to engage in meaningful conversations outside of their ideological comfort zones. Free speech means allowing all opinions to be voiced it does mean all opinions are correct, socially acceptable or shared by the majority. What it means is we as Americans are FREE to voice any opinion, idea or concept we chose to at any given moment regardless of what the person’s views are to the left or to the right. It is time that America is returned to the value of conversation.