By Brittany Dekorte
Recent rallies have been held around the country: Boston and Charlottesville, Va., and other cities in the name of “free speech.” Another was planned in Austin. These rallies have also been bearing the names of “white nationalist” and “alt right.”
Rallies in which the attendees, mostly white males, march to strip rights away from immigrants and people of color. Rallies where they march for their heritage, which they claim is threatened by other groups having equal rights. Rallies in which their “free speech” includes the chants of the KKK and Nazi Germany. Chants like “Blood and Soil,” or “Jews will not replace us,” yelled into a night lit by tiki torches.
Many of those men photographed at these rallies have been identified by groups online, comparing their photos with photos of social media users. Scores of men have been identified, and some have lost their jobs because of this, or their positions in clubs. One man was even formally disowned from his family for his participation in these rallies.
And to that, I say, good.
“But what about free speech!?” some may ask. “These people were expressing their First Amendment rights. They shouldn’t be punished for them. That’s what the First Amendment is about!”
Well, there seems to be a widespread misunderstanding about the nature of the First Amendment.
The wording of the First Amendment is fairly concise, “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.”
What many people don’t seem to grasp about that is the emphasis of the government’s actions in this amendment. ‘Congress shall make no law’ is the big qualifier in this amendment and is, arguably, the most important part. What it comes down to is this; you are free from the government limiting your speech in advance of you saying it.
And even then, there are limitations on what counts as free speech. Incitement, for one, is not protected speech; incitement is the act of purposely provoking/goading people to commit violence with your speech, instigating others to commit crimes. If telling someone that you want to take away their status as a human, that you would be happy to see them interned in camps, isn’t incitement, I’m not sure what is.
Let’s think of this on a smaller scale for a moment. If you walked up to people at your workplace and started insulting them, you couldn’t expect to say “it’s free speech” and just have them forgive and forget. Everyone in your office would hear about the incident, and there would be consequences.
Politeness works on multiple levels. If someone tells you they are offended by what you’re saying, you apologize. You try not to insult them again. If you do keep insulting people, you’ll end up being labeled rude. People then won’t want to talk to you, or work with you, and you’ll end up ostracized.
When all’s said and done, just because you are free to say most things under the First Amendment, doesn’t mean you should. You will still have to deal with your peers, your job, your family. You may be free to say it in the first place, but you aren’t freed from the social consequences of your words and actions.