In Praise of the First Amendment

 

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“It’s going to be amazing. It’s going to be very, very amazing. Trust me, it’s going to be amazing.”

Donald Trump

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“Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”

Initially it may seem unjust and unwise that honoring the First Amendment allows individuals to freely and legally spew the kind of hateful speech we have seen during these months leading up to the presidential election. The xenophobic and divisive language of Donald Trump’s campaign has gone from being ridiculous to terrifying. His continued insistence on ridding our country of immigrants, his plan to build a wall between the United States and Mexico to keep out the “drug addicts and rapists”, his statement that all Syrian refugees should be sent back, his calls for surveillance and possible closure of Mosques, his pledge to create a data base for all Muslims living in the Unites States, and his vow to impose a total and complete shut down on Muslims entering the United States are in direct opposition to our country’s basic values of human rights and freedom of religious beliefs.

While many of his statements are of the school-yard bully type (belittling and sexualizing women’s bodies or mocking a journalist by parodying his physical disability) others suggest that he has no respect for the fundamentals of our Constitution, and is willing to set aside any number of freedoms “until the government figures out what’s going on.”

Al Baldasaro, Republican state representative from New Hampshire, said that, “Hilary Clinton should be put in the firing line and shot for treason.” While Donald Trump suggested that second amendment advocates take matters into their own hands if Hilary is elected.

Why are these vitriolic statements allowed to continue?

Precisely because all speech, from the Kahn Family to the KKK, is protected by the First Amendment. Where do we draw the line between tolerance and intolerance in our society? And is tolerance always virtuous? What is acceptable behavior (moral norm) and what is not? In giving what is tantamount to hate speech a moral equivalency do we devalue honor, respect, and human decency? These are the difficult questions that society has had to grapple with over the centuries from the concepts postulated in John Milton’s Areopagtitca to those of Lee C. Bollinger in The Tolerant Society.

The idea behind the First Amendment is that freedom of expression will lead to an equilibrium. That for each slur there will be opposing ideas of rationality and compassion. That, rather than regulating speech everyone has a right to be heard, and that the more differing ideas that are shared the more balance is brought to the conversation. As noxious as some ideas may be, the First Amendment is the compass that can guide us out of the morass.

“If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” Justice Louis Brandeis

Limiting freedom of speech slips our society into dangerous territory in which those in power are able to regulate what ideas are allowed to be expressed and what ideas are not.

“No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are created equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where would we be?”

George Orwell -Animal Farm

The very rights that protect nefarious positions are the ones first suspended by those who use them to ascend. Despots understand the tremendous power of words.:

“Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy. You in America will see that some day. The truth is that men are tired of liberty.” Benito Mussolini

Donald Trump stated in his victory speech in Nevada that he loves the poorly educated. Why does he love the uneducated? Perhaps because through education we comprehend history, we learn how various governments work and how not to repeat atrocities. We become accustomed to thinking, examining and reflecting. We are able to ascertain that the concept of global warming was not created by the Chinese. We understand that tolerance and compassion come from understanding how different cultures evolved. Education allows us to differentiate between lies and truth:

“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”

Adolf Hitler – Mein Kamp

Not using our First Amendment rights by taking them for granted is disregarding the vital importance of freedom of speech in a democratic society. The more Donald Trump talks the more he reveals himself. Let him tweet. Let him and Hilary Clinton be completely free to tell us who they are, so that when we go to the polls this November we are not voting for an ideal created by marketeers, smoke and mirrors or spin-masters, but for a real human being whose voice we have had access to, thanks to the First Amendment.

Vote your conscious on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, and God (whomever you conceive him or her to be) Bless America.

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