Member Rara Avis
You guys have taken this thread into many directions beyond what I imagined, and raised a whole lot of valid points. I've been delaying my own response (waiting for Michael, too), but I think tonight's turmoil makes this a good time to add my own thoughts.
First, though, I'd like to comment on some of the remarks others have made. Elizabeth said freedom of speech was being able to express yourself, "provided it doesn't get *too* offensive to others." Starman echoes that by saying, "is not a Carte-Blanche permit for all types of comments which can only be described as abusive," and even Michael agreed with his comment that "It is when that opinion becomes of a harmful or abusive nature that the 'right' is being abused."
The problem is, no matter what you say or how fairly you say it, it's going to be offensive to someone. I know most of you were thinking about the majority, or large minorities, or special groups. Or, perhaps, about yourself. But it seems to me that the second we put any kind of "offend not" limitation on freedom of speech we have hobbled it to the point of impotence.
And, of course, I have almost an identical problem with Brad's and Munda's suggestion that Nazis shouldn't be allowed to speak in a "predominantly Jewish community." Should our freedom, then, be curtailed to only those who already agree with us? Should the Christian missionaries then only minister to the converted? (Bad analogy, but you know what I mean.) Again, this is a dangerous limitation to accept to our freedom of speech.
I think Robin and Faye were the two who probably hit closest to my own thoughts on freedom of speech. Robin, of course, suggested that if we want uncurtailed freedom for ourselves, we have to be willing to grant it to everyone else. Not almost everyone, but absolutely everyone. And Faye, at least indirectly, raised the very point I was trying to make when I started this thread.
Notice that my quotation from the American Constitution has certain phrases highlighted in bold? Read it again. Read just those words, together. The only guarantee we have of freedom of speech in American (and it's true of every other free country I know, as well) is that the government will pass no laws to curtail it. Freedom of speech, outside of government laws, simply does not exist. Your school, your employer, your church, your spouse and family and friends - everyone can and does limit your speech to whatever extent you allow them. And it will always be that way, because nothing else could possibly work. If you had true freedom of speech you could force your daily newspaper to publish your views along side those of Clinton. If you had true freedom of speech you could tell your company's customers what you REALLY think of your boss - and do it on the nightly news channel.
Freedom of speech, beyond the non-intrusion of the government, does not exist. Except - and this is a really big except - as an agreement between you and I. Uh, and of course all those other people out there, too.
Way back on July 4th, with a lot of other people at Passions, I posted a poem that probably explains my concepts of freedom a lot better than I can do here. It also, I think, touches a bit on what Munda and Marilyn mentioned. And while this isn't a forum for poetry, I see no reason to reinvent the wheel either.
I was fifteen when Grandfather died,
his twisted body vanquished by too many years,
his mind confused by too many diluted memories,
his spirit still as strong and indomitable
as the day he first killed another man
to protect the life he loved.
It was hard for me to see the war hero he had been
within the wasted remnants of a wispy old man,
his flesh sunken between fragile bones,
his smooth, soft skin bleached paler
than the sheets that wrapped him
like a premature burial shroud.
It was hard to see the war hero he had been
until Grandfather opened his rheumy eyes,
the blue as pale as a winter sky,
as hard and cold as tempered steel.
When he opened his eyes and looked into your soul,
only then could you see it. Then you would know.
Those eyes were a pool of profound strength,
with unwept tears of pain and death floating
just below their placid, unbroken surface,
like ocean debris trapped within swift currents
and forever forbidden to emerge,
forbidden to pollute the sea that was his life.
But, still, the soiled debris was a part of him.
Grandfather survived the German occupation of his land,
fought life and death struggles in an Underground
that would not, could not accept the domination of others.
And when it was over, when he had outlived the death,
he had moved to a new land, a land of new-found friends.
In America, Grandfather built a new life,
while never forgetting the lessons of the old.
His melodious French was replaced with broken English,
the rifles with shovels, the knives with hammers.
But nothing ever supplanted his implacable courage,
nothing ever usurped his enduring strength.
Grandfather was a warrior, but he was also a teacher.
I listened to his words, saw his examples,
learned from the stories and histories he shared.
He showed me that courage and strength aren't independent qualities,
but rather are the inevitable results of abiding love.
"What you truly love," he would say, "can never be surrendered."
And Grandfather, more than most, loved Freedom.
I have since learned there are many who say it,
but few who really feel it.
And fewer still who understand it.
Grandfather once told me he never fought for Freedom.
He said, instead, he fought against domination.
We were sitting in the old wooden swing,
its paint as wrinkled and weathered
as the skin of my grandfather's aged face,
the sound of the river flowing through his yard
a backdrop for a classroom
with neither desks nor chalk boards.
"A man can never take away your Freedom," he told me.
"They can only take power and make you pay a higher price
when you choose to exercise it.
Hitler wanted to make that price a man's death.
There is always a price to be paid for Freedom,
but when the price becomes too high, a man must fight."
I remember he paused then, his irregular breath
like a clipped whistle as it wheezed past swollen nostrils.
I was used to his long lulls, a habit so many found irritating.
Grandfather was giving me time, I knew,
to ponder, to absorb, to believe.
And I knew, too, in knowing him, there would be more.
When he finally continued,
Grandfather's voice was almost a whisper.
"It works both ways," he said, leaning closer,
his minty breath an envelope around my face.
"A man can never take away your freedom,
and a man never grant it either."
Grandfather's voice had many tones within it,
and I had learned them all through the years.
"The laws of this country are good ones, mostly,"
he said in a reverent tone, an awed tone
that spoke of important lessons
to be learned.
"But you must always remember that its Constitution,
and all the laws Congress has passed since then,
don't give you one bit more Freedom
than you already have.
Laws are made by men. Laws change.
Your Freedom is part of you. It's forever."
I remember nodding my understanding,
and I remember Grandfather's hand falling to my shoulder.
He squeezed briefly, and I can only assume he was pleased.
It would be another two years
before he would lay in a death bed of virgin white,
and another two decades before I would really understand his words.
The Freedoms written within our laws are always conditional.
Freedom of the Press is amended by libel statutes,
and Search and Seizure laws are cast aside for Probable Cause.
All the laws, all the guarantees,
exist only at the whim of the courts and Due Process.
Any government based on unconditional Freedom
would necessarily be a government of unconditional anarchy.
Our laws don't grant people Freedom.
Our laws only set the price that must be paid
when a citizen chooses to exercise our Freedom.
But the Freedom comes from within.
Grandfather was not a religious man, but he was a Godly man.
And I think he knew.
Our Creator gave us not only our existence,
but he granted us Free Will,
that we might choose between good and evil.
And that power of choice is what Freedom is really all about.
There will always be a price to pay for Freedom.
The price is set by the hand of man, by the laws we make.
When we are wise and good, the price is one we can bear.
And when we are neither wise nor good,
there will always be men like Grandfather,
with the courage and strength to fight for what they love.
[This message has been edited by Ron (edited 10-31-1999).]