Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 29, 2013

Laborers under First Amendment should guard its health and well-being


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — We lament and bemoan. Criticize and compliment. We espouse our opinions with hands clenched or sarcasm spewing at a local club meeting or coffee shop, and across the pages of social media.

We take aim at our president, our Congress, our city board and local media. And it is our right to do so, spelled out loudly and clearly in the Bill of Rights.

It’s freedom of speech. Not something to be taken lightly.

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When a nation’s people are weaned on the inherent knowledge they may speak their peace without fear of repercussions, then outrage and opinion, as well as expressions of gratitude, love and even hate, will be heard from all corners of the land.

In today’s America, the messages are loud and clear.

Topics of debate at the water cooler and on Twitter can go from Edward Snowden, hero or traitor, to Snooki’s best friend is pregnant in less than 20 seconds. (Wait a sec ... what’s a Snooki?). This zigzag from constitutional rights to pop culture embarrassment makes it obvious we, the people, are immersed in our culture of freedom of speech.

We may not think about it as we opine for or against the current president’s actions during dinner table talk or a debate at the barber shop, but it is here — and real.

Americans can stand on the street corner and proclaim the president a genius or jackass without fear of being tossed behind bars and, perhaps, beheaded later on the whim of a totalitarian ruler.

In 2013 the mere thought of such complete authority may sound like crazy talk, but we can never forget such actions have also been very real in the course of our global history.

People have died for criticizing their nation’s leaders.

People have died for speaking views unpopular to those in power.

And in America, hundreds of thousands of troops have died through the centuries in an effort to protect our freedom of speech, along with many others essential to the underlying tenets of our society.

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“A free People will be shewing that they are so, by their Freedom of Speech,” wrote Thomas Gordon, a British journalist, in 1720.

The quote may be nearly 300 years old, but Gordon’s words ring as true today as they did in those years before America was founded upon principles underscoring individual liberty. Silenced, censored or muted by real or imagined government duress, the people are not truly independent if they can not or will not speak freely.

In the U.S., it’s interesting to watch how we take advantage of this First Amendment right.

We speak out loudly for or against keeping troops overseas.

We listen and offer opinions regarding the Affordable Care Act, and whether it will be America’s saving grace or ultimate downfall.

We “ooh,” “aah” and laugh out loud at YouTube videos featuring silly toddlers, crazy kittens and dumb-as-dirt teenagers filming stupid stunts.

We gossip about the latest celebrity baby bump, ponder how Michelle Obama keeps her arms so toned and bash our congressional representatives — party affiliation being unimportant — for his or her failure to represent we, the people.

And we debate whether “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson should be ousted from the hit reality show for quoting an anti-gay Bible verse.

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In the days since Robertson’s GQ magazine interview, many television commentators have jumped on the anti-bearded, anti-traditionalist bandwagon. He should be silenced, they say, and his show yanked from the airways.

This from so-called journalists?

It makes no difference whether one agrees or disagrees with Robertson’s remarks. As laborers under the First Amendment, watchdogs and guardians of its health and well-being, shouldn’t we “defend to the death” his right to say it?

Each and every person who has bashed or applauded Robertson’s announcement has an absolute right to do so. But for anyone to imply he should not speak freely is contradicting the First Amendment right granted to all Americans.

For anyone to imply another’s words should be censored based on a belief that he or she knows what’s best for the masses to hear is a dangerous concept in direct conflict to the liberty our founding fathers fought so hard to secure. An integral part of our First Amendment freedom of speech is the right for those listening to form their own opinions.

“To preserve the freedom of the human mind then and freedom of the press, every spirit should be ready to devote itself to martyrdom; for as long as we may think as we will, and speak as we think, the condition of man will proceed in improvement,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1799.

We can agree with Robertson and become part of the “Duck Dynasty” fan base, or disagree and turn the channel.

Either way, it should be our choice. Our freedom. That’s what America is all about.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.