****Don’t say I didn’t warn you!!***
I read this blog on Pandagon this morning that made me think. Here’s an excerpt:
Free speech entitles you to:
Say what you want to without fear of government censorship or retribution.
Free speech does not entitle you to:
1. An audience. You can say what you want, but people are not actually required to listen to you spew. So, contrary to many, many claims otherwise, your free speech rights are not trampled if someone ignores you, blocks you on Twitter, or refuses to give you a job as a writer or communicator for their organization. National Review isn’t stepping on my free speech rights because they don’t hire me. If your sexism stops you from getting a prominent job in media, that is also not a violation of your rights.
2. To have others host your speech. This is a corollary to the first one. Facebook, blog comment sections, online forums, etc. are just like TV shows, radio shows, and magazines: Their house, their rules. They have built up an audience and they are not obligated to turn around and give you that audience to spew your garbage. Start your own damn website/magazine/forum.
3. To be protected from criticism. I don’t know how many times I have to say this, but free speech protects your right to celebrate rape with your “jokes”, and it also protects my right to call you an asshole for it. Daniel Tosh can think it would be hilarious to watch someone get raped and say so, and I say that makes him a moral monster and a piece of shit. It is not censorship to hurt the tender feelings of people who think rape is hilarious.
I found this a nice little primer on what constitutes “free speech.” I can’t count how many times I have gotten into a debate with someone and they something vile and I call them out on it and they get pissy because I am infringing on their free speech. No. I am not the government coming to your house to arrest you for saying something stupid/infantile/ignorant/offensive. I am exercising MY free speech to tell you that I think you are a piece of shit. End of story.
You can SAY anything you want to. Doesn’t make it moral, just, or even factual. The whole Chic-fil-A gay marriage issue was like that. People were saying that boycotting them for supporting traditional marriage (or denying equal rights to gays-however you want to frame it) was a violation of free speech. Again, no. That was a decision made by consumers to not visit an establishment that openly opposed values that they supported, i.e. equal rights for all Americans.
Every summer in my town, we have a big festival called Bele Chere. Dozens of bands play free shows on one of several stages throughout the downtown area over the three-day weekend. There are hundreds of booths lining the streets that showcase the wares of local artisans and vendors, plus all kinds of food to suit every taste.
It’s a lot of fun for me and my family. But this isn’t really a plug for the festival, though you really should attend if you can, especially if you love music. It just happens to be where I got a firsthand lesson on free speech.
This festival definitely draws out the weirdos and the exhibitionists. It REALLY draws out the Bible-thumpers as well, who I personally lump in with weirdos, but that’s my opinion. We recently had the distinction of being named “the Cesspool of Sin” by State Senator James Forrester, who has sadly passed away. I imagine him looking down on us sinners from a fluffly cloud of righteousness.
So anyway, this REALLY brought out the religious fanatics, who feel the need to both condemn us all as sodomites and satanists.
The people with their GOD HATES FAGS signs stand stoically among the revelers. They also present a photo-op for gay couples, who kiss passionately next to the picketers as a friend snaps a quick photo to post on their Facebook pages.
Others rail against the presence of beer in the streets. They hold up larger than life photos of an actual dead person on the road, brains leaking onto the blacktop, allegedly because he drove drunk. There is also the anti-abortion crowd, who march through the streets holding massive placards depicting photographs of mangled, bloody fetuses and buckets of tiny body parts. Once they placed a tiny, knuckle-sized plastic fetus in my young son’s hand without my permission as we walked by.
Although this festival has its share of loud drunks, occasional cursing, and a few passionate lovers displaying inappropriate PDA, I find these moral police most offensive and destructive to the tender minds of my children. How do explain these things to a five-year-old that I have diligently sheltered from ignorance and hate and in whom I have instilled the values of acceptance, tolerance, and love for her fellow man? It is easy to explain drunkenness and to witness it actually helps them not to want to EVER look so foolish by overindulging. It is ever so much more difficult to talk to a child about why someone is saying that God hates some people. Why is a person who wears a shirt professing that JESUS SAVES yelling at us that we are unfit parents because we are drinking beer? “Why is he saying that, mommy?” I DON’T KNOW!
How DARE they defile my children’s minds with their twisted opinions and their vile hate? I am FURIOUS every single time they dare even look in my direction, let alone address me or my children. These little humans that have never been left in a daycare or with a stranger until they started going to school because of my need to be the one to shape their character-they are the most precious things in the world to me.
A few years ago, in a fury, I demanded that a police officer make them take down the bloody image of a dead man. I thought that it was a violation of my rights to have to see it. My children had never even been allowed to see a violent movie. The only dead person they had ever seen was at a funeral of an elderly aunt. The officer calmly explained that it was not possible and would be a violation of their free speech rights to force them to take it down. “But what about MY rights?” I exclaimed. “Ma’am, I’m sorry, I understand, but it’s the law.” It’s not really in my nature to admit I am wrong, so I didn’t at the time. But I SUPPOSE in this case, I was. I don’t know.
I thought about not ever going to another Bele Chere again, but why should we forgo the best opportunity to hang out with our kids, listen to music, and see friends who come in from out of town FOR FREE? We don’t have much money, due to the aforementioned decision to stay home with my children rather than pursue a career for the time being.
So we try our best to avoid these people, though it’s not possible to skirt around them all. I use the opportunity to discuss the issues with my children on their level. We discuss abortion and drunk-driving and the concept of sin. We talk about how much more effective these people would be if they didn’t use shock factor to get their “point” across.
Consider the sweaty gentleman on the corner, wearing a suit, holding a worn Bible, speaking at normal voice level. He has a crowd around him, straining to hear what he has to say above the din of the partiers and the music. People are nodding in agreement, asking him questions respectfully, and bowing their heads to join him in prayer,. He shows dignity, restraint, and true conviction. That is how I imagine Jesus might have been. I admire that man, and point him out to my children.
Free speech is at times a burden. It requires us to accept and make allowances for offensive and hateful messages. We cannot always control what our children see and hear, despite our best efforts. It makes us angry at times. We must use that anger to exercise our own free speech. One of these days, I may bring along a sign of my own. Maybe “GOD LOVES US ALL” or “LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR.” But I would have to put down a cold beer on a very hot, sunny day to do it.
On another note, this may be our last Bele Chere, because budget cutbacks have forced the city to say they will no longer host the event unless another entity foots the bill.