The Freedom to Speak
A Responsibility that has been Neglected
by Mark Liberator (e-mail:

Driven by current events, including lawsuits, grassroots movements, political campaigns and even conversations around dinner tables across the nation, we are deluged by hundreds of issues. From a multitude of sources and opinions we are able to come to our own conclusions regarding these issues. It is an ongoing activity guaranteed by our Constitution, namely 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.

Amendment I

This fundamental right allows us to discuss sometimes controversial issues. For instance, we are free to ponder existing drug laws and how public schools operate. We can question our representatives in government. In fact, there is no issue we cannot openly debate. Our rights as citizens allow us to engage each other and prosper as a whole because of it.

Philosophers have maintained that in order for a free society to exist this right of free speech is crucial and healthy. However, where we are divided upon lines of opposition regarding controversial issues is actually our true strength.

There are differing camps on many key issues: abortion, use of military force, extent of public assistance, expression of religion. Our differences stem from diversity. This diversity, in combination with education, patience and the ability to clearly communicate our thoughts is the glue that holds our democratic world together. It is the creative genius that invents, solves problems and is initiated by open discussion.

Do not be tempted to give in to those who dictate "now is not the proper place nor the proper time," limiting our free speech. Enacting this mantra is without doubt easier than grappling tough issues. It may momentarily end heated discussions but at what cost? We should encourage people to form persuasive arguments instead of squashing budding thoughts. There is learning in this process. It is quite entertaining too, especially if we educate ourselves to disassociate the arguments from the speakers.

We at The Liberator have made it perfectly clear that our goal is, in part, to maintain personal freedoms. On the horizon, we see a loss of personal freedoms headed our way. An attempt to yank away our freedoms will not be thrusted from us in a rushed game of tug-of-war. Whether there is a giant conspiracy or unknowing participants to blame, the method will be the same: incremental, gradual loss.

Slowly our rights are being eroded. Just as a stone in a river gets smoothed by the virtually infinite number of water molecules that slam into and pass over the rock surface, we too are losing substance. We are becoming dull with time but cannot see the small losses, moment by moment.

If you find yourself in disagreement or wondering what our losses have been, consider this:

  • Safety laws have restricted motorcycle riders by forcing them to wear helmets in certain states. The goal was to lessen the potential for injuries and consequently medical costs. It also prevented motorcycle riders from making their own judgements. This was a small loss of freedom but still an important one because many other losses came after this.
  • Safety concerns allowed airlines the right to examine our personal packages. The goal was to prevent terrorists from harming travelors with bombs and weapons. The loss of freedom opened the door for security officers and government officers to search our belongings without probable cause. The restriction may have been necessary for airlines to conduct business but a can-of-worms was opened.
  • Our government has been able to seize property and assets surrounding drug cases and Internal Revenue Service investigations. Innocent until proven guilty does not apply any longer. Defendants have to prove how monies and properties could have been legally obtained to keep them. It enabled our government to wage a war on drugs and gather illegally sheltered tax dollars but at what price?
  • Personal gambling has been made illegal although states maintain lotteries and local governments oversee casinos, some of the floating variety. Are our citizens not responsible enough to make their own decisions regarding independent gambling? Maybe controlled gambling is acceptable because the government can monitor every transaction and tax appropriately. It may be money, not a morality issue here at the expense of personal freedoms.
  • Credit cards have become increasingly more convenient to use. However, this may one-day replace currency as our method of conducting business transactions. We do not have to carry wads of cash but now our spending habits can be closely followed by corporations and government personnel. This may mean that every gift we contribute, every tip we offer, every gumball we buy will be scrutinized by the business community and be examined/taxed by the government.
This list has definitely not been exhausted. Recently the second amendment [right to bear arms] has come under attack. It seems to be the hottest, newest craze since the attack on the tobacco industry. What was accomplished with the tobacco scuffle? Cigarettes cost more and useless public service advertisements run daily about the misery surrounding tobacco. People still smoke cigarettes, including teens. It has not affected teen usage. It may make one think that the whole fight was just a parlor trick -- smoke and mirrors for political gain.

With targets fixed on guns, we will lose the ability to defend ourselves if no one speaks up. Putting a quick Band-Aid on a deep wound will not fix the problem. Might the actual plan not be related to public safety but to political polls? In any case, a loss of freedom is not the final solution. Public awareness is more often the best solution.

Public awareness is generated in part by the media but must play out where social groups gather, classrooms are in session, family discussions take place and conversations happen between friends. When people talk, they share a sense of community even when there is disagreement. Tolerance is the ingredient citizens must possess to make these discussions valuable.

We must assume that people are capable of making their own choices based on the numerous sources they draw from. Imagine a society that assumed otherwise. We would arrive at a highly intrusive government that would make choices for us.

We all want to live in a society that is safe, but absolutely so? Let us imagine a society free from violence or harm. Here are just some of the activities we would be required to do in this strange but safe world.

  • Report to city guards and show documentation as we travel from point A to point B as assurance that we belonged there.
  • Eat regulated meals to prevent acquired diabetes and early heart disease through excessive weight.
  • Allow city guards to enter our homes to search us and detain us without reasonable doubt.
  • Let the government determine our allowance, as the needs of the whole would outweigh the needs of the one. In other words, taxation to pay for all of these programs would be incredibly high!
It is easy to understand with little imagination that a good idea taken too far can land up being a giant-sized mistake. Let us also face the fact that there will always be inherent dangers to a free society. That is the price for true freedom. Our devotion to it must be exercised through education, discussion, tolerance and a willingness to participate in a democracy. Living in a democracy requires that we not act as though we are spectators.

"I hope, therefore, a bill of rights will be formed to guard the people against the federal government as they are already guarded against their State governments, in most instances."

Thomas Jefferson to James Madison*

With great pleasure it is possible for us to entertain courageous thoughts. Nevertheless, the next loss we face may prevent us from doing just that: thinking outloud, using the collective mindset. An attack on the first amendment is playing out on the technical landscape, the Internet. How this unfolds is important, as it will impact on all other rights we have.

There are those who would like to relinquish our Constitutional rights without much thought based on the political climate of the moment, misinformation or a lack of history concerning certain issues. Thankfully, our government was designed to move sluggishly, with its many sequences of cross checks between overlaping branches. The system prevents itself from falling victim to the fleeting winds of public perception.

Instead, our government was designed to behave logically, reasonably, with balance in mind. This is also how we must approach each issue we encounter. It is not simply our right; it is our responsibility. Without the freedom to speak, we would be unable to perform this responsibility all of us must bear.

* -- The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Edition (Lipscomb and Bergh, editors), 20 Vols., Washington, D.C., 1903-04.

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