The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday is the freedom to speak. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees the freedom of speech, but Americans continue to experience problems exercising this freedom. The main problem is censorship of speech in order to prevent individuals from being offended.
The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech….” It states that “Congress” shall not legislate what we say, but it includes all levels of government. Yet, Americans, particularly students, are being told that they cannot express their feelings in non-aggressive ways.
Michael Bargo, Jr. at American Thinker believes that the Constitution is violated several ways when the language and actions of Americans are censored or banned. His article makes some very good points, and I recommend that you read the entire works. I will share just a few of his paragraphs to give you an idea of what is in his article and to show some ways our freedom of speech is being curtailed.
“One, the most obvious one, is that it allows a tiny group of people to say they are offended and thereby censor the language of others. The First Amendment does not say that the freedom of speech can be infringed by somebody claiming to be offended by the exercise of someone else’s speech. This standard of personal feeling is not written anywhere into any right protected by the Constitution. Feelings are not relevant -- they simply are not mentioned as variables that influence legislation. If they were, people should have the power to shut down government regulations because they were offended by them. But, curiously, those who promote using the concept of personal offense never speak of limiting government, only limiting the people.
“Evidence of this is that we are told no matter how many people are offended by government mandates or Supreme Court decisions, such as same-sex marriage, the fact that people are offended doesn’t have any standing when standing in the way of the rights of others being expanded. The people can’t influence government on the basis of being personally offended, only government bureaucrats can use this strategy."
Bargo continues, “This leads into the second important Constitutional issue regarding the offensive language standard: the 14th Amendment. The 14th Amendment says that no state can pass a law that denies anyone equal protection. This means that a tiny group of people cannot have a right to censor language as offensive, and no one else. So far no one has explained, in constitutional terms; why one person, who claims to be offended, has the right to shut down the speech, clothing, or legal actions of everyone else.
“At first glance this looks ridiculous, and it is. But like many other liberal power-enabling concepts, those perpetrating it intend to repeat it so often that it becomes accepted by a majority of Americans. But it cannot survive constitutional scrutiny for the simple reason that in order to accept the censorship authority of person A, one has to disqualify the censorship authority of person B. Simply put, this implies that one person’s feeling of being offended has value, and everyone else’s doesn’t. This is unequal protection. A regulation is as legally binding as a law, so one can argue that this regulation, of elevating personal feelings to regulations, is asserting unequal protection of the law. And this is what the 14th Amendment clearly bans."
Bargo explains, “The idea that one person, or a small number of persons, can veto a law or control the speech of others has the very real effect of seizing power over the votes of everyone else. This is because if a small group of bureaucrats can censor speech, they can censor the expression of speech through the ballot box. This deliberately concentrates power into the hands of a small number of people. And this violates the one person one vote concept that has been repeatedly protected by Supreme Court rulings.”
One of the reasons why Donald Trump became so popular with the people is the fact that he is not “politically correct.” He does not care if he offends anyone by telling the truth. I do not believe in rudeness, but I do believe that we should be able to express our thoughts in a civilized way without being censored.
We have God-given agency, which is the freedom to choose. One of our choices is the decision to take offense at what we see or hear. We have the freedom to be offended, but we do not have the freedom to censor what someone else says or does.
I appreciate the counsel given by Elder David A. Bednarof the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “When we believe or say we have been offended, we usually mean we feel insulted, mistreated, snubbed, or disrespected. And certainly clumsy, embarrassing, unprincipled, and mean-spirited things do occur in our interactions with other people that would allow us to take offense. However, it ultimately is impossible for another person to offend you or to offend me. Indeed, believing that another person offended us is fundamentally false. To be offended is a choice we make. It is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else.
“In the grand division of all of God’s creations, there are things to act and things to be acted upon (see [Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ], 2 Nephi 2:13-14). As sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, we have been blessed with the gift of moral agency, the capacity for independent actions and choice. Endowed with agency, you and I are agents, and we primarily are to act and not just be acted upon. To believe that someone or something can make us feel offended, angry, hurt, or bitter diminishes our moral agency and transforms us into objects to be acted upon. As agents, however, you and I have the power to act and to choose how we will respond to an offensive or hurtful situation.”
Our God-given agency and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution give us the freedom to speak, act, and wear what we choose. No one has the right to take those freedoms from us. However, we must remember that all of our choices have consequences and act accordingly.