In defense of right of free speech

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” — Attributed to Voltaire (Evelyn Beatrice Hall)

I continue to be amazed at the American public’s capacity to hold vehemently to one amendment of the Constitution and completely reject or gloss over another. Take the case of the 2nd amendment’s inclusion of the right to bear arms which has become a shrill resistance of any effort to reasonably legislate “sensible gun ownership” (which I fully support). If anyone dare suggest more stringent background checks or limits on assault weapons, then prepare to be shouted down as un-American and anti-Constitutional.

But consider the recent protest of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Here is an American who has decided to exercise his constitutional right to peacefully express what he believes is an injustice, that is, to exercise his 1st amendment right to 1) free speech and 2) petition the government for a redress of grievances. Yet, rather than being praised for this exercise of citizenship, Kaepernick has been insulted, trashed, and threatened with his life by those who despise his protest, saying he is without patriotism by refusing to stand for the National Anthem.

But who is expressing their patriotism more than someone who genuinely believes that the Constitution means what it says by guaranteeing these rights to say what we believe, speak directly to power, and protect ourselves against aggression? Whether you personally believe Kaepernick is right to protest the injustices suffered by many African-Americans or not isn’t the point. It may be beneficial to our national life together if we will stop picking and choosing what, within our founding documents, best supports our particular issue and acknowledge along with the founders and the thinkers from which they fashioned the political philosophy that became America, “I [may] disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Voltaire did say, “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” May this be food for thought for a nation starving on a diet of incivility.

Tom Stephenson


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