The idea of freedom of speech is perhaps one of the most overused—and abused—constitutional concepts in American society today. Whenever someone is justifiably criticized for using offensive speech, the First Amendment right to free speech is almost invariably cited. The first point that many seem to show immense difficulty understanding is that the Constitution restricts the actions of the government when dealing with citizens. Breathlessly citing the constitutional right to free speech outside of the correct context of addressing the government’s desire to quash the speech of citizens is nonsensical. Moreover, it is generally those who cite “freedom of speech” whenever people disagree with their offensive speech who are trying to shut down debate. People have the right to make offensive remarks, just as others have the right to say that those remarks are abhorrent. Dissenting speech is also a part of free speech. Many think that free speech entitles them to say offensive things without having to deal with the consequences of anyone being offended. While the Constitution protects the right to offend, the Constitution does not protect people from censure and other social consequences of being deliberately offensive.
Recently, in McKinney, Texas—a part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex—a bikini-clad teenage girl, Dajerria Becton, who was attending a pool party with her friends, was manhandled by an overly aggressive police officer, David Eric Casebolt. Casebolt wrestled her to the floor, handcuffed her, and placed his knee on her back. The incident was filmed by an intrepid white teenager, Brandon Moore. From the footage, it is clear that there is no conceivable way that it can be argued that she posed a threat to the officer. It is also clear that his use of force was utterly unnecessary and barbarically excessive. The video evidence was so damning that Casebolt resigned from his job as an officer. In the wake of this incident of police brutality, there have been many reactions. Despicably, Alberto Iber, then a principal of a school in North Miami, left a Facebook comment in support of the demonstrably abusive officer. He wrote: “He did nothing wrong. He was afraid for his life. I commend him for his actions.” Iber was later fired from his job. While this principal is entitled to his opinion, the clearly visible video evidence shows that the officer was hyper-aggressive and none of his actions, or the actions of the teenage Becton, would lead a reasonable person to believe that he was, or should have been, in fear for his life. This is an open-and-shut case of police brutality. Those defending the officer are willfully defending the abuse of citizens.
In the same way that the officer is receiving support, some are defending the fired principal, arguing that it is Orwellian for him to lose his job for exercising his right to freedom of speech. This is absolutely nonsensical. Some imagine that the right to freedom of speech is an inviolable contract that forces private citizens to brook intolerable behavior. This could not be further from the truth. Yes, people can and should be fired when they engage in speech that demonstrates a clear bias that impedes their ability to correctly and judiciously do their jobs. How can a principal be expected to be fair in his dealings with black students at his school when he sees a video recording of a defenseless black minor in a bikini being roughed up by a cop and concludes that the officer acted correctly? The principal’s employer was justifiably alarmed that he expressed an opinion that shows a level of tendentiousness that would impede his judgment in his work. He deserved to be fired. Citing the fact that he has the right to the freedom of speech is irrelevant. No government actor threatened to throw him in prison because of his injudicious and erroneous opinion. Just as Americans have the right to freedom of speech, American employers also have the right to fire employees when they say things that betray an inability to fairly do one’s job. That is part of a concept known as freedom. When Subway fired a black worker who posted celebratory messages on Facebook in response to cops being killed, they were absolutely justified in doing so. Although her opinion has no direct bearing on her ability to make sandwiches, it is within the right of Subway higher-ups to fire a worker who engages in hate speech that encourages violence against a group of people—in this case, police officers. Just as hate speech against police officers is intolerable, so also is supporting police officers who engage in animalistic brutality against innocent citizens.
Last month in Garland, Texas—another suburb of the city of Dallas—Islamic terrorists opened fire attempting to kill people who were attending a “Draw Muhammad” exhibition, an event sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative. A security officer was injured by the Islamic terrorists, but the Garland PD shot and killed both terrorist perpetrators. Although this event is heralded by some as a massive achievement in the protection of free speech in America, the fact of the matter is that it was nothing more than pathetic trolling that recklessly endangered human life.
Everyone knows that Islamic terrorists are psychotic, murderous madmen. We also know that attempting to kill people because one does not like the depiction of one’s prophet is madness. People do not have the right to kill because they are offended by criticisms of their religion. Moreover, any religious belief that requires its adherents to go on casual murder sprees in defense of a prophet is unequivocally toxic. In the Christian religion, the Bible declares that vengeance belongs to God. The theological reasoning behind this is because God is omniscient and omnipotent. He is the only one capable of justly dealing with His enemies and their evil. Any god that requires humans to do his fighting for him is a cowardly and powerless god. With that said, the desire of people to activate the homicidal proclivities of madmen under the pitiful guise of “defending free speech” is both unwise and toxic. Islamic terrorists should be annihilated with minimal casualties—not trolled with art galleries that goad them into killing innocents indiscriminately.
Trolling Islamic terrorists by painting pictures of Muhammad is useless. It has been done relentlessly over the years to the point that it is now boringly unoriginal. There is no reason why, in 2015, people should still think it is humorous or novel to hold a Muhammad drawing competition. There is no other explanation for why such an event should take place—except to incite Islamic terrorists and create bloodshed for headlines. The First Amendment protects all kinds of speech, but the First Amendment should be modulated by functioning moral compasses and wisdom. While Muhammad cartoons are protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, it does not demonstrate wisdom to put on such a gallery less than five months after the barbaric massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices in France. Organizers of such pointless, trolling art galleries know what they are signing up for. Did they think Islamic terrorists would show up with boxes of assorted chocolates and bouquets of red roses? Of course not. The organizers of the event wanted violence. Given that no innocent American was killed in the Garland shooting, Geller decided to up the ante and take her cartoon campaign to public transportation in Washington, DC. Her plan to have Americans killed by Islamic terrorists was fortunately quashed when the DC Metro wisely banned all religious and political submissions for the rest of the year, which Geller predictably responded to by suggesting that her First Amendment right to freedom of speech had been abridged. At this point, anybody who suggests that Geller does not want gallons of American blood spilled for the headlines and spotlight she’ll get is a dishonest cretin.
In the same way that the school principal who was fired for supporting a corrupt cop’s abuse of a minor did not have his First Amendment rights violated, Pamela Geller’s First Amendment rights were not violated simply because people objected to her irresponsibly childish and attention-seeking trolling of Islamic terrorists. Although the First Amendment protects purveyors of hate speech from government repression, it does not mandate that hate speech must be a staple in polite society. Again, the First Amendment clearly starts off with the phrase, “Congress shall make no law”—not “society shall make no rules.” There is a reason why David Duke and people like him who spew vile white supremacist rhetoric are reprimanded and shunned from polite society. While the Constitution protects his ability to speak, it does not force organizations to affiliate with him and broadcast his hate. Moreover, if David Duke hid his anti-Semitic and anti-black views and managed to finagle his way into an administrative position at a Jewish or black organization, it would be perfectly acceptable to fire him when those views became known.
Some have the tendency to use the Constitution as a license that entitles them to be utterly revolting human beings without having to endure any societal consequences. Such people are particularly fond of the principle of freedom of speech because they think that it means they can be verbally abusive and engage in hate speech without even the slightest opposition. When that opposition occurs, they can whip out their trusty Constitution, which functions like a sheriff badge, in order to end the debate. Similarly, these same people love the Second Amendment because they think the right to bear arms means that they have the right to kill people and use the pretense that they were “afraid for their lives” in order to get away with it. The Constitution is an essentially good governing document, but it gets a bad reputation because its most loquacious defenders tend to be objectionable human beings.
It is important to note that constitutional permissibility does not immediately indicate moral rectitude. Those who worship America and the Founding Fathers probably think such a statement is heretical, but it is the truth. Moreover, there is a much higher court than the Supreme Court of the United States. The court of objective morality is much more important. Just because the Constitution says that something is legally acceptable does not mean that someone is not morally culpable for their objectively immoral actions.
Freedom of speech is an important idea that is one of the bedrock principles that has made America into one of the greatest nations in the history of the world. It is a necessary aspect of a free society. However, the abuse of the idea of freedom of speech, and its illiterate application to various situations where it palpably does not apply, is deeply problematic. This “freedom of speech” absolutism that attempts to allow people to evade societal consequences for their reprehensible and irresponsible speech is simply totalitarianism in the clothing of freedom.