During the recent ruckus about a letter to the editor, the accusation was raised that the people opposed to it might be pro Second Amendment, but were anti First Amendment. Hitting as it does one of my major pet peeves regarding our Constitutional rights, I want to address this. This post is about the 1A question, so the remarks do not necessarily apply directly to the original letter.
To begin with, here is the text of 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; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Skimming lightly over the religion part, we get to the freedom of speech, and of the press, both of which would be at issue here. “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” and, through the 14th Amendment, the states shall make no law.
Nothing in 1A says that exercising your freedom of speech will not result in other consequences, such as someone else telling you that you are wrong, and shouldn’t have said whatever you did, or people boycotting you (like the Dixie Chicks,) or calling you crazy. Just like you have a 1A right to speak, I have a 1A right to say you are wrong, you should shut up, or whatever. And guess what? After that, you have a 1A right to tell exactly the same thing.
And like 2A, our 1A rights should be exercised with care. If we saw someone acting unsafe with a gun, we would tell them what they were doing wrong, and to correct it. In the case of someone who was drunk or in some other condition that might make them unable to be safe, we might even take the gun away. In this instance, we saw someone exercising their 1A rights in a way that we felt was irresponsible, and called them on it. Never, to my knowledge, was it suggested that the original writer didn’t have the right to say what he did, or that his right to free speech should be removed. I believe that in this great country we have the right to say things that are wrong, stupid, ill-phrased, and whatever else, and support that. We don’t however, have any protection from others exercising their rights, and telling us it was wrong, stupid, ill-phrased, etc.