A friend shared an article on Facebook about the vaccination debate, though you can pretty much pick any poison as a topic. I broke the rules and entertained myself for a few minutes by reading the comments. Not surprisingly most of the commentators spent their time throwing the all too familiar barbs and epithets at each other rather than commenting with any substance. You know, liberal vs conservative, left vs right, stupid vs moron. Which is why I usually obey the ‘Don’t Read the Comments’ rule.
Then it came. Jesse (screen name) cleverly replied to another equally clever commentator, “You don’t like what I say, don’t read it. Freedom of speech.” And there it is. The way to quash any and all dissenters from whatever your view might be. “I get to say whatever the hell I want and you can’t say otherwise because I have freedom of speech!”
Um, no you don’t.
It is true that in most circumstances the government doesn’t have the right to keep you from speaking your mind. Specifically, the First Amendment says, “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.” (Emphasis mine. Click here for non-wikipedia source)
But please note, the First Amendment doesn’t protect you from the consequences of people reacting to what you say. If you want to be an asshat, you have the freedom to do that. But please understand, being an asshat is a pretty good way to get called out for it. And when you do, for the love of all that is holy, do NOT hide behind the First Amendment seeking protection from reactions to what you said.
Instead, be reasonably and reliably informed and in being informed don’t rely on a single biased source such as Fox News or MSNBC or any number of agenda and ratings driven, as opposed to fact driven, sources. Be reasonably and reliably informed BEFORE making your statement. And when you do decide to speak, own what you say. Be a big person and defend what you said based on its merits, not hiding behind the Bill of Rights and a fallacy that you can say whatever the hell you want without any pushback.