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Speak smartly and carry a big schtick

By Thomas Lindaman
web posted February 13, 2006

Folks, we need to have a talk. No, I'm not breaking up with you, but I do have to take issue with something a lot of people have been doing lately and it has to stop. It's been bugging me for a while and it's gotten to the point that it's something I can't ignore.

You need to do some serious thinking about freedom of speech.

There, I said it. If I had to do it again, I would.

Seriously, the concept of freedom of speech has been stretched more than a Speedo on Michael Moore. And much like said Speedo, if left unattended, it's going to be broken beyond repair. We've let freedom of speech become a catch-all for any speech or expression that is bound to offend people.

Take, for example, the recent flap over anti-Bush comments made at the Coretta Scott King funeral. Reverend Joseph Lowery and former President Jimmy Carter took the opportunity to make thinly-veiled attacks on George W. Bush…who was sitting behind the podium where they were making speeches. In discussing this situation, most Democrats and liberals I talked to had the same argument: it was free speech and was to be expected because King was a political figure.

Hold on a minute. Let me remind you that this was not at a reception after the funeral; this was at the funeral itself! Lowery and Carter had a right to speak their minds, but the circumstances should have raised a red flag in their minds because it wasn't the most appropriate place to make said comments. After all, a funeral is supposed to be about remembering the person who died, not to make political speeches.

This is one of the problems with free speech today. People want to speak their minds without consequence under any and all circumstances, and they do. And anyone who even suggests that these folks think before they speak is branded as censoring them. Tim Robbins alluded to it in his now "a chill wind is blowing" speech, suggesting that his anti-war and anti-Bush sentiments should not be grounds to exclude him from being involved in certain activities.

There's only one tiny problem, Timmy. The right to free speech is not absolute by any stretch of the imagination. There are a number of legal restrictions on free speech, ranging from laws prohibiting slander and libel to the prohibition of "fighting words" that are used to raise someone's ire and make him or her want to fight the speaker. That's why I consider Michael Buffer to be a criminal. After all, he tells fighters, "Let's get ready to…" well, you get the idea.

But aside from these, there is another limit, one that not too many people utilize anymore. It's called conscience. Just because you have the right to speak your mind doesn't mean every forum is conducive to speech. You wouldn't stand up during an audience with the Pope and start cursing him like a drunken sailor with Tourrette's Syndrome, would you? And after the beating I got from the Pope's guards, I'll never do it again…

Now, before you start shooting off angry emails to the ACLU or to me, let me explain something. I'm not in favor of the government dictate who can say what at what time. I value the First Amendment as much as anyone, consider without it, I'd be on the short list for a one-way trip to Gitmo. As far as I'm concerned, as long as I'm not breaking the law or injuring someone with my words, the government can keep its nose out of my computer.

Having said that, that doesn't mean we should be able to say what we want when we want under any and all circumstances. There are times when we need to show some discretion and respect the environment, even if that environment is "spoiled" by the existence of someone we disagree with. Think about who might overhear what you say before you say something, especially if you're in a public situation. If you can hold your tongue and act with some degree of civility towards those who you disagree with, you are speaking smartly and showing some class in the process.

And that's something that's missing with the majority of free speech today, as it was missing at the Coretta Scott King funeral in the crass comments made by Jimmy Carter and Rev. Joseph Lowery. Mrs. King may have agreed with their sentiments and maybe even applauded them, but her funeral wasn't the best place for that kind of negativity. Just because you can say something doesn't mean you should.

And Lowery and Carter should have kept their mouths shut until they had paid their respects. That would have honored Mrs. King's memory a lot better.

Thomas Lindaman is a Staff Writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets. He is also Publisher of CommonConservative.com.


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