Letter: The essence of free speech
I believe that most of us are aware of the intent of the framers of the U.S. Constitution when they began to craft the First Amendment, specifically that statement of purpose which is so strikingly elegant and simple in its clarity:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
By placing this amendment foremost in the Bill of Rights, the framers confirmed what was by then a long-established tradition of Western law. With Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, the concept of free speech naturally evolved into the freedom of the press. The printed word, by the use of carved wording on blocks of wood, preceded the invention of Gutenberg’s press.
The Magna Carta, the basis for all English law as well as for our Constitution, was itself prompted by an act of tyranny by the then-king of England, King John. The Magna Carta continues to remain relevant and very pertinent to the cause of human rights. It is this document that became the basis for all constitutional law. Again within the English Bill of Rights of 1689, the right of free speech was emphasized:
"That the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament."
Suddenly in America, there are things that cannot be said. The very concept of free speech includes the right to offend. With free speech being repressed and subservient to such influences as political correctness, hate speech law and now, an emphasis upon Sharia law into our culture. The aspect of blasphemy and slander charges are becoming a further impediment to honest discussion and debate. Not only have many in America succumbed to the tendency to self-censor as a result of these influences, but the specter of physical intimidation has entered into the equation.
I reflect again upon the words of our 35th president and twice-decorated Naval officer, who foresaw a time in America that we are currently experiencing:
"And only the very courageous will be able to keep alive the spirit of dissent that gave birth to this nation."
Those words were penned by John F. Kennedy in his "Profiles in Courage," written prior to his election as president.
It is the act of dissent that is the essence of free speech. As Americans, it is our duty to speak directly to the transgressions of free speech. The barons of ancient England spoke to that duty when they confronted the king with the drafting of the Magna Carta. Can we, the citizens of America, do any less?
Port Haywood, Va.