It’s safe to say that these two names have garnered the most media attention in the past month –even overshadowing the Ukrainian crises, the search for flight MH370 and the Korean boat mishap. What makes the story of these two men entirely article worthy is not the substance of what they divulged –albeit stupidly, but how the fallout from their tirades have cast the spotlight on the United States First Amendment and public censorship.
The First Amendment states:
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.
If you read in between the lines, you would find a general distrust of Government. Because the United States was an antithesis of a monarchy, the folks wanted to make sure that Government did not have the ability to subdue the free expressions of the average person. Hence the Amendment could be said as a protection of the average person from the Government; but the Amendment does not entirely protect the average person from the average person.
We know there are exceptions to the law; such as, your speech should not directly impact the freedom of speech/expression of another man. This could be loosely interpreted as your speech should not infringe on the ways of life/beliefs of another human being. In this era of political correctness, where LGBT, Minorities, Veterans, Disabled/Special needs persons are all represented by backed interests, any speech/expressions remotely disparaging these groups are entirely frowned upon by society; even though technically, such speech/expressions are protected under the First Amendment.
Now the questions arise, where should the line be drawn as per free speech? In Donald Sterling’s case, his comments were entirely private-which I bet, many of us have made similarly prejudiced statements in the confines of our homes and associations. The NBA commissioner Adam Silver said (paraphrasing) “even though they were private statements, they are now in the public domain, which makes it public and action had to be taken”.
On the other hand, Clive Bundy was handed a microphone, put on a platform and he spoke candidly – many libertarians would say, public censorship is killing our national discourse. They would argue that in order for any meaningful progress to be made in society, these uncomfortable questions needs to be put out there – which they said he (Clive) did.
Public censorship is becoming increasingly powerful and in certain cases, stifling national discourse. The scary thing about this censorship (by the people) is its being akin to jungle justice meted out by the larger chunk of the vocal population. While this censorship can be effective in policing the public sphere, it sometimes kills dissenting voices which might have provided useful fodder for dialogue and solution.