Granted, we most often argue over the Second Amendment, but in my opinion, one of the most misunderstood of our civil rights is the First Amendment. The First Amendment combines several civil rights. The entire text of the First Amendment says: “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.”
Most, though certainly not all people, see the “no law respecting an establishment of religion” as what we know as “the separation of church and state” and take that to mean that the government cannot favor one religion or one religious belief over others. It is essentially a hands-off our religious beliefs policy. In the England American settlers left, The Church of England was the religion of the land. The King and the Church were very powerful in the governing of the people. We have freedom of religion of our choice or no religion at all as well as freedom from religion being forced onto us. In my opinion, there is no freedom of religion unless there is freedom from religion.
Next is the short but monumentally important protection against the government “abridging the freedom of speech”. Here we are guaranteed that our government cannot ban speech it does not agree with, or speech critical of the government. James Madison considered free speech “a vital aspect of a healthy republic” and while tested to some ugly extremes it has stood the test of time. Until a 1925 Supreme Court case applied it to state governments as well through the 14th Amendment which basically applied “full and equal benefit of all laws”, it was considered only to apply to the federal government. We have been arguing over what it all means and how it all applies ever since.
One thing that I think many, many people, from the famous, to the pundits to local Facebook friends get wrong is that free speech means people have to agree with you or not challenge what you say. That was patently untrue in 1789 and it is patently untrue today. From Voltaire to Patrick Henry, it has been said in one form or another, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” There is no right to have what you say accepted, applauded or agreed to. There just isn’t. Far too many people on the right see any argument to their comments as an infringement on their right to free speech and that is so specious yet so deeply ingrained is has become an urban legend or adage that will not die the death it deserves.
Just as you have the right to boycott and publicly lash out at Bill Maher, Ed Schultz, or MSNBC, we have the same right to boycott and publicly lash out at Phil Robertson, Sarah Palin or FOX. That is simply and irrevocably the truth.
Free speech is abused to the point of mockery on a daily basis:
Using historical American Revolution quotes to bash Obama.
Using biblical quotes out of context to bash homosexuals.
Using statistics out of context to affix blame.
Using a false impression of America in 1789 to bash America in 2014.
On and on it goes, but that is and will remain your right. Just stop pretending that right does or should shield you from the mockery, criticism, call-out or argumentation it deserves, because THAT is what makes free speech “a vital aspect of a healthy republic”.
“If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union, or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated, where reason is left free to combat it.” –Thomas Jefferson
Reason does combat every day.