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|When Free Speech Costs Too Much||
One of the hallmarks of American greatness lies in 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..."These two ideas, religious liberty and free speech, are not a hodgepodge of concepts thrown into the same statement by happenstance. In fact, the foundational Judeo-Christian guidelines regarding speech provide the basis for a society that can be trusted with the freedom to express itself in words, both spoken and written. Yet, now more than ever, the abuse of this freedom and the havoc it can wreck can be clearly seen in the public forum.
Religious tradition condemns certain kinds of speech. It is considered morally wrong to lie, to speak perversions, to condemn people, to manipulate and to otherwise speak things for evil purposes. Most rational-thinking adults, whether religious or not, would agree that these things are destructive to people as individuals and society as a whole.
Traditional thought holds that when people exercise self-control in their words, they can then express themselves freely in the public marketplace of ideas. But this is not so in today's political climate.
Take the two presidential nominees. Both are under fire for things they have said. President Bush addressed the country numerous times regarding the war in Iraq. Now, people are questioning his words. Senator Kerry has brandished his Vietnam War experiences for his political purposes. Now, others are questioning his words. Both of these issues are legitimate topics of discussion. Both should be publicly debated. However, the ensuing display of verbal and written attacks towards both men has spiraled downward into a blatant abuse of our freedom of speech.
Certainly we should question the intelligence prior to invading Iraq. Citizens have a right to know why their sons and daughters are risking their lives in Arabian deserts. Journalists have an obligation to dig for facts. We should also find out whether Senator Kerry really ventured into Cambodia around Christmas in 1968. He has made it an issue of his leadership and the veracity of his claims directly reflect the truth of his character. But the way in which we question their words must be constructive, not destructive.
Some Republicans expressed their disapproval of certain harsh attacks leveled at Senator Kerry by a group calling themselves "Swift Boats for Truth." A few Democrats distanced themselves from the distortions and half-truths concocted by Michael Moore in Fahrenheit 911. But too many leaders on both sides have remained as silent as a Muslim Mullah after another suicide bombing.
Questions must be asked, truth must be found, and free speech must be defended. At the same time, lies, misrepresentations and other dishonest speech must be exposed, deplored and denounced.
Freedom of speech is valuable, but the ability to speak words that are wholesome, true, and productive is priceless.