Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"My Freedom of Speech Rights"

Apparently, I do not have the same belief in MY rights to Freedom of Speech as many others do.

I have always believed my right to religious speech was protected. But I knew I could not walk in your business or home and demand that I get to speak my religious thoughts to you.

I have always thought I could speak freely about political issues, but somehow I also knew that I could pay a price for those words in ways that no government could protect me from. Once I spoke out in a local government office about a taxing policy, saying I thought I would speak to a couple state representatives about making some changes to the law. The employee at the counter then warned me that the last person she knew of that tried to change it, got a gift from the state, a tax audit. We should all know that words can have consequences and we should weigh the value of expressing those thoughts against the possible end result.

As an elected board member, I watched citizens interrupt board meetings. These government meetings were required by law to be conducted in public. There were published agendas with noted public participation instructions. Completely ignoring the rules of public participation, bold angry citizens would demand they be heard forcing everyone to allow them their 5 minutes of saying whatever they pleased to say while declaring they had freedom to speak.

I have attended graduation ceremonies where hundreds of graduates were to have their names called when they walked across the stage to receive their diploma after years of work to earn that privilege. Those in charge would request the attendees be respectful of all the graduates by holding the applause to the end. They also asked that there be no screaming and hollering as the next person's name could not be heard. They declared that law enforcement would remove anyone who did this. The officers stood everywhere, watching. Along with most, I followed the instructions.  But some folks did not comply with the request.  I believe they thought it was their "RIGHT" to speak, scream and holler  anytime, any place. I recently read where a mother was removed and arrested for disturbing the  peace at her son's graduation ceremony for this very thing. In court, she was found NOT guilty.

With all this in mind, I have been thinking  about the recent issues with law enforcement that have ended in the death of citizens in Missouri and New York. Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed on Aug. 9, 2014 by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in Ferguson, Mo. after the officer asked the man to get out of the street.  Eric Garner, a 43-year-old black man, died in July after an officer put him in a chokehold during an arrest in the borough of Staten Island, NY on suspicion of selling loose cigarettes.  It seemed both incidences began with a verbal confrontation.  Both men decided they had something to say and by gosh they were going to have their say. How different both cases would have been if these men had just closed their mouth. Could it be that we have so declared our "Freedom of Speech Rights" that naive folks have come to believe they have no responsibility with that right.  People actually think they have the right to shout fire in a crowded building, or interrupt any public meeting or ceremony, or holler and argue with an arresting officer without any consequence.

What are we teaching our children about the responsibility that comes with "FREEDOM?"

When my dad was teaching his teenage children to drive, he constantly pointed out the rules of the road. "Obey the rules and watch out for the other guy", he would say.  He regularly warned,"You can be DEAD right". According to dad, dead was never to be the consequence for learning to drive.  DEAD "right" was to be avoided at all cost.

Freedom of speech is not a license to abuse. It is a serious responsibility. We must return to teaching respect for authority.  Parents, grandparents, teachers and law enforcement are all authority figures deserving respect. May we all be examples of taking responsibility for our actions and our words. With humility, we should value others above yourselves.

Philippians 2:3(KJV) Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

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