The horrific attack in France that left 12 people dead have whipped the internet into a furor. Suddenly, people are talking about freedom of speech and discussing responsibility.
If you live in the United States, you exist under a law cementing your freedom of speech. It is your right to say what you want, with exceptions for inciting folks to harm, libel and hate speech. Hundreds of thousands of papers have been written analyzing the impact of these laws, to prevent chilling effects and ensure citizens and media have their freedom.
People don’t get freedom of speech because of the nature of people. Almost without exception, we like and support people who believe and speak as we believe and speak, but get upset and angry with people who express views and ideas running counter to our own. We have the law to protect us AND the people whose views we despise. To paraphrase the great Andrew Shepard (sorry, an old white dude president, but I love this flipping speech), uphold the rights of someone whose views you would spend the entirety of your life shouting against. Celebrate that in your classrooms.
It is this freedom that protects bands that I won’t even link to, bands promoting racism, homophobia and misogyny. And we react not by banning those bands’ ability to make music, but by not buying their material, not supporting their tours, and writing and releasing music supporting values we believe in.
The solution to speech is more speech, speech promoting what you believe, or in opposition to what you do not believe. (side note – it’s out of the scope of this blog, but there are important exceptions for hate speech, which significantly impacts people and is banned under the 14th amendment, providing all equal protection under the law).
Both terrorist fundamentalists and our media talking heads lose their focus here. If you don’t like what’s being said, TALK MORE. Act more. Protest more. Don’t kill people who don’t share your views. Bans, rules and fear will not change people – they will never see things your way from being afraid. DEATH SHOULD NOT BE A CONSEQUENCE OF SPEECH. But, it is. Often.
Even when the said speech sucks. Even when it’s offensive to us. Death should not be the consequence, and expressing our empathy and compassion for those lost in the attack does not equal agreement with what was published.
Reporters, bloggers, writers, artist, musicians, citizens – do not give in. Do not let fear and oppression rule the day, but do not use our ability to speak as a carte blanche stamp to say whatever the hell you want. We have a unique opportunity to show solidarity and support to those in France who made their views public, at great risk to their own lives. We also have an opportunity to use our speech to condemn both the newspaper’s racist cartoons and the terrorists’ act of violence which cost lives.
Now is the time to stand up for the right of all to speak freely and disagree freely.