Friday Firesmith – Freedom Of Speech

Several years ago I sat down to have a few beers with a journalism professor. She teaches senior classes on the ethics and laws regarding free speech, as well as trying to teach an increasingly tech-heavy crowd that one hundred and forty characters isn’t enough to read, or to have written.

She tells her new students about a woman who wrote horror stories that involved the murder of little kids. The tales were so gruesome the woman had a hard time finding a publisher and when the books were published everyone and his brother wanted the books banned. However, the courts ruled that a book being in exceedingly poor taste did not violate any laws. It’s a lot like the billboards that line the Interstate that advertise for strip clubs. They may make you turn bright red when your kids ask what a stripper is, but there is nothing illegal about it. That’s free speech. It’s protected under the law. You protect the fringe so it is easier to protect the mainstream.

Your first amendment rights end where someone else’s rights begin, generally speaking. You cannot stand up in a McDonald’s and start making puking noises. They can and they are very likely to ask you to leave or have you arrested if you do not leave. You cannot go to a library and start panhandling for money with your guitar and pet monkey. You cannot pee in public on the side of a tree no matter how badly you have to go. In other situations, all of these actions are legal. Sometimes they are and sometimes they are not, both legal and not legal.

If Jon decides to pull something I’ve written then he has a legal right to do so. I have no legal right to pursue justice against Jon for pulling an article, pulling everything I’ve ever written here down, or if and when he so chooses to do so, Jon can refuse to let me publish here for a good reason, a bad reason, no reason at all, or even if he thinks Gus wants him to. Jon has the right to publish what he damn well pleases to publish. He’s the owner and operator. He does the work here maintaining the site. My ‘write’ to free speech does not include anyone, anywhere, at any time, owing me a platform from which to freely speak.

Moreover, I have a lot of respect for Jon’s judgment. He’s a proven source of stability on the internet which is hard to find. Even if I didn’t think he was legally right, I would have to respect his judgment because it has proven to be good enough to get me here. We have rights, but we also have responsibilities. We have to behave in a responsible manner. We have to choose how outraged we ought to be when something simply doesn’t go the way we thought it might. Sometimes, outrage is a symptom of irresponsibility. We can learn a lot about a kid throwing a fit because he didn’t get the toy he wanted. Of course, from the beginning, the kid had no rights to the toy. More people ought to teach this to kids, and to some adults.

Stop and think about something for a moment, please. We all, every one of us, live in a world built by other people. Roads, houses, buildings, sidewalks, shelves, coffee cups, spoons, lights, cars, trucks, tampons, and even toothpicks. They get paid to do it. Some to their jobs very well. And everyone has the right to build in this world, or even when the situation calls for it, to tear things down and start over. Democracy, as it is practiced here in this country, or was at one time, works when people come together and make things and they make things happen.

You have the freedom, and the right, to say and do what you want to help this or to change it peacefully, or to do nothing at all.

But you have an obligation to be responsible. And you ought to respect what others have built unless you can do better.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

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