This week is National Freedom of Speech Week. It’s good opportunity for those of us in America to remember how lucky we are to live in a country that respects freedom of the press and freedom of speech. After all, we could live in country like China, where dissent, press freedoms and online communications are frequently punished with penalties or prison time. (They even censor news coverage of disasters over there!)
Or consider Russia, where journalists live in fear for their lives for reporting the news, or where the state has continued its push to monopolize the media industry. For example, in July 2004, a state-controlled entity took over Russia’s independent NTV television network and began canceling programs that were critical of the government, including, ironically, one talk show called “Freedom of Speech”!
Of course, there is still plenty of push-back against speech rights here in the USA. Over just the past few years, for example, we have witnessed a major government crack-down on “indecent” speech on broadcast TV or radio; a new push to expand indecency laws to cover cable and satellite TV; threats of wireless / mobile media regulation; a continued push for the regulation of video games; ongoing proposals to regulate Internet speech and online expression (including social networking sites); and stringent new campaign finance laws that grotesquely curtail political speech in the weeks before an election.
As I argue in every essay I pen responding to these proposals, what speech critics consistently fail to appreciate is that in a free society different people will have different values and tolerance levels when it comes to speech and media content. It would be a grave mistake, therefore, for government to impose the will of some on all. To protect the First Amendment and our heritage of freedom of speech and expression from government encroachment, editorial discretion over content should always remain housed in private, not public, hands.
However, there will always be those who respond by arguing that speech regulation is important because “it’s for the children.” (For example, just last week, I responded in detail to Sen. Joe Lieberman’s recent “for-the-children” manifesto). But raising children, and determining what they watch or listen to, is a quintessential parental responsibility. Moreover, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost 68 percent of American homes do not have any children under 18 years of age in residence. Thus, government regulations that seek to regulate all content the name of protecting children will cast too wide a net by ensnaring many adult-only households.
Personally, I think the most important thing I can do for my children is to preserve our nation’s free speech heritage and fight for their rights to enjoy the full benefits of the First Amendment when they become adults. Until then, I will focus on raising my children as best I can. And if because of the existence of the First Amendment they see or hear things I find troubling, offensive or rude, I will sit down with them and talk to them in the most open, understanding and loving fashion I can about the realities of the world around them.
I would hope that the critics of the First Amendment would do the same instead of seeking to undercut our nation’s rich history of freedom of speech and expression. It is one of our Founders’ enduring gifts to future generations and a precious freedom worth fighting for.
Happy Freedom of Speech Week everyone !