Last week, Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s brain exploded smack in the middle of her radio program, and expelled the N-word 11 times in about three minutes. On Tuesday, she apologized and announced that she will end her program when her contract runs out in December. So now, there are rumblings of free speech – censorship – racism. What she did was inexcusable, but no one is violating her first amendment rights.
When I was about six years old, I heard some kids in the neighborhood using that word. I repeated it in the house. When my father asked me what it meant, I told him I didn’t know. He told me that it was a very bad way to refer to “Negroes” (It was the PC term in the early 1960s), that it was mean and hurt people’s feelings, and that I was never to use it again. I haven’t. I taught my son the same thing.
I don’t like it no matter who says it. Everyone knows that it’s wrong and everyone knows why. People who use it do so deliberately to hurt others. However, it is not a first amendment issue unless the government tells us not to say it.
Free speech is probably one of the most misunderstood of our rights. We do not have the absolute right to say whatever we want, whenever we want, to whomever we want, on any topic. The first amendment says that the GOVERNMENT can’t interfere with our speech. Courts have held that it applies to political speech, not to all speech.
For example, dampfang.com can restrict our speech on their website. The government cannot restrict our speech on dampfang.com. Our employers can tell us not to wear T-shirts with political messages to work. The government cannot tell us such a thing. Parents can tell their minor children not to read certain books or magazines, or not to use certain words. The government cannot tell them such a thing.
We can’t libel or slander someone, incite a riot, risk a catastrophe (shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre), or disclose classified national security information. These are all legitimate and necessary restrictions.
At the moment, the American Civil Liberties Union is involved in 23 cases of free speech rights nationwide. If you feel that any government official or agency is restricting your free speech, contact your local chapter of the ACLU. The Pittsburgh chapter office is at 313 Atwood Street in Oakland. Their phone number is 412-681-7736, but don’t try to call them. They don’t answer their phones. Ever. They don’t want to be interrupted. So walk in and interrupt them.
The ACLU often defends people who use horrid forms of hate speech. They do so because their only client is our Bill of Rights. As they say
It is easy to defend freedom of speech when the message is something many people find at least reasonable. But the defense of freedom of speech is most critical when the message is one most people find repulsive. That was true when the Nazis marched in Skokie. It remains true today.
And just for the record, this is the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, effective December 15, 1791:
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.
See. It says Congress shall make no law. . . . And that means all of government in the US. It doesn’t mention your employer, your friends, or your parents.
For more information
American Civil Liberties Union
Read the US Constitution. Really. Do it this time.
Dr. Laura’s public apology
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