Thursday, February 17, 2011

Freedom of Speech

Do we have freedom of speech? Our constitution guarantees us freedom of speech with the first amendment 1 - Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression, which was ratified 12/15/1791. It states “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.”

Our founding fathers realized that the one thing that our new country could provide was to give people the ability to live their lives in a manner that was free from persecution for their beliefs. For example the early members of the Religious Society of Friends, were tortured and harassed for believing and practicing their religious beliefs in their homeland of England.

However, I sometimes believe we take this right a little too far. The most recent situation of the teacher in Bucks County caught blogging about her students is case in point. Did she really have the right to say all those things under this amendment? Or are we harnessed by our employers to watch our words carefully for fear of retaliation and expulsion from our places of employment. My personal belief is that we are somewhat restricted based on the potential ramifications our words can realize. Even though she has the right to say what she wants she represents her school – her place of employment – and as such should have been mindful of how others might think of the school. If she had blogged in such a way to be totally anonymous, then maybe she could have vented all she wanted and not caused such a fury.

This incident reminds me of a story I just finished reading; The Help by Kathryn Stockett (a great book IMHO). Back in Mississippi during the 1960s a black person could be beaten to death for interacting with a white person. The maids in this story were given the opportunity to possibly turn these unspoken rules around if they would only speak up and tell stories about their experiences in a book. At first they were reluctant to do so for fear they would be fired, or worse, beaten for the stories. But after a while, they began to come forward one after another to allow the person compiling the stories to submit the manuscript. However the author, a white woman, did not put her name to the title because she too was fearful of retribution due to her involvement with the maids. They had the right but there were potential consequences if they exercised that right to its fullest.

So the question remains. Do we have full freedom of speech? Freedom denotes the ability along with the absence of consequences. Until our society is willing to accept without agreement, I believe we don’t.