When the Bill of Rights was ratified more than 200 years ago, it established the basic freedoms most Americans take for granted today. Our First Amendment rights allow us to express ourselves, share ideas, and collaborate freely.
While we know that freedom of speech is a fundamental part of our identity as a nation, many Americans do not have a clear idea of what this means in practice. People assume that the phrase “freedom of speech” means they can say whatever they want without consequence.
When people experience repercussions as a result of things they have said, they expect to be protected under the First Amendment.
This right is often used as a wall to hide behind when people want to say rude or offensive things without consequence. While this freedom does protect people’s right to voice their opinion, no matter how ignorant it may be, it does not protect them from others reacting negatively.
Recently, a Florida high school teacher tweeted profane and obscene comments about President Obama. Weeks later, Obama came to give a speech at the same school. The teacher was, unsurprisingly, not invited to attend.
Outraged, he sent letters about the “attempt to discredit or embarrass [him], quite possibly by school administrators, the Secret Service, or the President,” to news outlets such as Fox and local TV stations as well as his senator and congresswoman. He believed he was being excluded for his political views and that he was “singled out for using [his] right to free speech.” He demanded a public apology for the percieved discrimination.
Similarly, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin rushed to defend Phil Roberston from the TV show “Duck Dynasty” after he made homophobic comments and was subsequently suspended from the show. She wrote, “free speech is an endangered species. Those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.”
These are both perfect examples of people saying rude, profane, and ugly things and then getting upset when it comes back to bite them.
Having the right to free speech does not mean you can say extremely offensive things and not deal with the repercussions. Freedom of speech does not give you the right to say offensive things in your workplace and then take your boss to court when you get fired.
Having the right to free speech means you can make your opinion publicly known and not get thrown in prison for it. The First Amendment only protects you from legal consequences. You are free to express yourself and your views, but you must be prepared to deal with how others react to them.
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