Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Not All First Amendment Free Speech Is Equally Worthy

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Not All First Amendment Free Speech Is Equally Worthy

Article excerpt

Women are incapable of rational thought; there is some question of whether they have souls. Since the ability to read the Bible is the goal of education, there is no use in educating such creatures. Black people are shiftless, oversexed, lazy and prone to steal. Really, they are more similar to the great apes than to their white masters. Women's natures are too delicate and frail to enter such professions as medicine or law. Women have no heads for public affairs; under the circumstances there is no reason for them to vote. The Chinese are a dirty race, unsuited to living among white people. Homosexuality is a mental illness. The sun rotates around the earth. Other than being untrue, what do these statements have in common? They are all ideas that were once thought to be true. They were not the province of kooks and oddballs. In their time (tens, hundreds or even thousands of years ago), they were believed by respected members of society. Esteemed professors taught such things as a hierarchy of races, with the esteemed white race on top.

The reason these once-accepted ideas are no longer accepted is a tribute to the openness of our society. People have experiences; they think; they argue.

Often at great personal risk, people challenge accepted ideas. A few women push their way into the law and do well. Women vote with at least as much knowledge and prudence as men. Black people are given a chance and prove themselves just as honest and capable as white people. Things we once knew to be true are questioned and exposed as false, products of our bias or ignorance.

Part of the foundation of this open society is the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It protects our rights to speak freely, express any idea we wish. Except for rare exceptions for a few things such as inciting violence, anything goes. Even offensive ideas are protected.

When used to advance ideas, the First Amendment is a wonderful thing.

It makes it possible to criticize leaders. It makes it possible to challenge conventional wisdom. It makes it possible for someone to argue that women should vote and for the rest of us to say (eventually), "Yeah, why not?" It makes it possible for someone to say that the actual differences between black people and white people are trivial and for the rest of us to (eventually) believe it.

It helps society advance, often to the point where things we once knew to be true now seem goofy. …

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