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Free speech limits threaten U.S. democracy

As I See It

Americans have gone soft on protecting the rights that set us apart from other countries. In our pursuit for political correctness we have relinquished our right to free speech. However, as distasteful as we may find it, the freedom to utter politically incorrect statements is protected under our Bill of Rights. Those rights were hard to get and can easily slip away if we lose our vigilance and determination.

Just as a refresher course in American history, the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791. They guarantee freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. For more than 200 years, the First Amendment has protected the right to express one’ views, even if the majority of Americans don’t agree with them.

Nonetheless, a recent survey shows that today many people are more concerned about not offending others than with preserving First Amendment rights.

Disturbingly, the survey found that:

• 67% of those surveyed believe that racially insensitive remarks should not be allowed.

• 53% said that remarks that might offend a religious group should not be allowed.

• 40% felt that music should be censored.

Censorship is censorship and it has no place in America. No matter how foul and offensive, people must be allowed to express their views.

Otherwise, we forfeit a vital part of America’s greatness.

No doubt, many will disagree and believe that it’s OK to restrict unpleasant remarks, religion or music. After all, shouldn’t our children be protected from such vile utterances?

Who is going to decide which words, religions and songs are OK? Just like passage of a “temporary tax,” once censorship takes hold, it never ends.

I see a corollary between censorship and hate crimes legislation. In my judgement, hate crimes legislation is a very bad idea. People who commit crimes should be punished.

I don’t see how we can tell with any certainty what a criminal’s motive was at the time the crime was committed. Further, I think it a serious mistake to have different punishments for the same crime. Murder is murder. Furthermore, the First Amendment gives us the right to hate anybody we find detestable. If we commit a crime against that person, it is a crime. I don’t see where our motivation should enter into it.

When the government is empowered to sort out what is acceptable and what is not, the horse is out of the barn and there is no stopping them. It may be alright to outlaw someone else’s religion or habits, but yours could be next. Baptists may decide that since Methodists don’t immerse, they should be outlawed. Some racial groups might find that historic literature is offensive and insist the government abolish it.

Once it starts, there’s no ending it.

On a more current political issue, campaign finance reform is also about trampling on our right to free speech. We need to be active citizens and make our wishes known at the voting booth. Restricting any candidate from advertising is a mistake.

Campaign finance reform favors the incumbent at the expense of the challenger. It is only through the publicity accorded challengers that we find out what our elected officials have done that they are not so proud of.

I think a better solution would be to require politicians to exhibit the logos of their largest supporters. They could sew the patches on their coats similar to NASCAR drivers and then we could see who has sponsored which politician. Democrats would wear labor union patches and Republicans would wear patches with the logos of big oil and the drug companies. In addition to being informative, I think it would be kinda cute.

American society is always influenced by groups who would like to restrict our rights. Communists, socialists, anarchists and cults abound. Every right that we give up makes our country just a little weaker and a little closer to losing what we have worked so hard to achieve. Our rights can only survive when we protect the rights of the smallest minority. Once we declare censorship war on the low-lifes that produce the offensive music, we take away from our cherished freedoms as Americans.

Thought for the Moment — I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.

— Ernest Hemingway

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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