Misconceptions of Free Speech
Free speech is a beautiful thing when understood and used correctly; too often the right is abused and misused. The freedom of speech was granted to all Americans by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the U. S., along with nine other amendments, collectively and appropriately called, The Bill of Rights. The First Amendment offers that Congress creates no law prohibiting or favoring any religion or its right to assembly and practice. It safeguards our free speech, the right to express ideas and opinions; and the media, all mass communication such as: newspapers, magazines, television, and radio. Additionally, it provides that Americans have the right to protest governmental policies and the right to ask the government for compensation and aid; but at what point does one’s free speech become an infringement on the rights of another? When does free speech become harassment?
There is an interesting, and ongoing story in the news about a woman without kidneys, who is currently on welfare because her condition makes it difficult for her to work. She was utilizing food stamps while grocery shopping and encountered a problem with a particular item the manager would not approve as a food stamp purchase. During their conversation, the manager stated to the woman, “Excuse me for working for a living and not staying home like you.” This statement could certainly be considered harassment, and some may even feel it is an abuse of free speech since the statement was meant to cause harm, but nevertheless the manager has the right to express his opinion. While it is probably against the policies of the store to insult customers, the manager is not legally bound by the constitution to keep his opinion to himself. He probably wishes he had, because the story has become international news, and while he has currently been moved to another location, media publicity has the potential of ruining his reputation and position as a manager.
Another recent story making the headlines in the news today deals with a video that was recorded and published on the internet by a small group of Americans, along with Mark Basseley Youssef, expressing their distrust of the Muslim faith and the origin of the Koran. Since the release of the video, there have been several attacks of retaliation on innocent Americans living and working in the Middle East. The U. S. government has asked YouTube, the webpage where the video was first published, to remove the video; but it does not violate any YouTube regulations or policies. Youssef’s video provides a good example of an abuse of free speech. While Youssef and his supporters have a right to express their opinions and ideas, their opinions were not only hurtful to Muslims, but also harmful, and even deadly for some Americans.
Free speech was created with the intention to encourage Americans to speak up about their needs and wants concerning their federal government, and to encourage the exchange of ideas and information. Free speech becomes harassment when the audience has to refuse the ideas being presented to them, repeatedly, when the speaker is defaming another’s character with slander, and when it ridicules or expresses hate towards the beliefs and opinions of a particular group of people. When free speech is misused and abused it often becomes its own worst enemy, as in the case of the grocery shopper’s complaint on the news which ultimately reached international press, and the retaliation attacks on Americans by Muslims in the Middle East in response to the hate video published in the U.S.