I just read a thoughtful post on the American Thinker website (LINK) that sparked me to offer some observations about freedom of speech and the executions in France of the Charlie Hebdo journalists. I’m as close to a First Amendment absolutist as you can get and fully support a wide interpretation of First Amendment rights. I do not believe any government is capable of fairly regulating freedom of expression. There should never be any modification to the First Amendment:
“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.”
We must strongly promote the quote attributed to Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” We must ensure that our society remains a diverse and open marketplace of ideas. Let’s get all views out on the table and have a honest debate about the issues we face. Censoring or suppressing beliefs and speech only makes them more dangerous. The beauty of the free speech doctrine is that it’s a two-way street. It’s not just the speaker and writer who enjoy freedom of speech – it’s also the listener and reader who have the same right to challenge or respond.
While I was in law school, a controversial professor came to speak at the University of Buffalo. His name was Leonard Jeffries, and he had a long record of making hateful and racist statements (link about Jeffries). I appeared with other students to protest outside the speech. I made up a flyer with all of Jeffries’ hateful public statements and tried to gave it to all those entering the speech. I fully supported his right to speak at the event, but believed it was equally important to meet his hateful speech with my own speech. A few people confronted me and asked why I did not support free speech. I quickly explained how they misunderstood what freedom of speech is all about – Leonard Jeffries should make his speech, and I was there with my responsive speech to educate the attendees that the speaker they came to hear was a proven racist and anti-Semite. I even appeared on the nightly TV news, which was exciting for a law student.
I share this story because it’s always better to have controversial and hateful statements out in the marketplace of ideas. And that is exactly why we must stand with and defend the Charlie Hebdo magazine and all other controversial publications. The brave 2012 quote of Charlie Hebdo editor Stéphane Charbonnier is important for the world to remember: “but I’d rather die standing up than live on my knees.” If you are truly dedicated to freedom and liberty, you must feel exactly the same way. While I personally would not engage in blasphemy against a religion, I would defend to the death the right for someone else to do so.
The radical Islamic terrorists like Al-Qaeda and ISIS are pleased to announce their goal of destroying freedom and liberty around the globe, and last week we learned just how serious they remain – we’re in a war to defend freedom of speech. There is no First Amendment in an Islamic dictatorship. The free world properly rallied around France over the past week, but we must be concerned there are too many nations that refuse to protect civil liberties. Our fight for real freedom and liberty cannot stop in France – we must remain vigilant until every nation in the world enshrines into law the civil liberties we enjoy in our great country.Jim Maisano Jim@FreeVoter.com
(Jim serves as a Westchester County Legislator).