Amendment I 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.
– This is the first amendment as written by James Madison under the tutelage and encouragement of Thomas Jefferson in 1789. Little did he know that Thomas Jefferson’s suspicion that the bill of rights would become so important and so necessary was dead on the money. – Freedom of speech and press are as deeply important to me as all the other rights combined and perhaps more so. These rights are being trampled lately and by many of the ones that complain the loudest. In light of the press being pursued and prosecuted for reporting what they find that contradicts what many politicians don’t want the American Public to know,( like the actions of the NSA as reported by Edward Snowden as well as what’s being exposed by Wikileaks) my fears of losing these rights has increased. But we must use these rights responsibly.
– The Freedom of speech is the one I want to address at the moment though. We must remember that with that freedom comes responsibility and the fact that it doesn’t also grant you the freedom from the consequences of your speech. There are always consequences. Everything one says or does has an equal and opposite reaction, and there are at least two sides to every story but more likely as many sides as there are witnesses. And there are many perspectives on every event, issue or circumstance. For this reason, I have been making a stronger effort to think before I speak, not only on this blog but also in public.
– Recently I was in a place of business, a souvenir store called Alvin’s Island in Panama City Beach, Florida where my friend was having t-shirts airbrushed for her children. The artist was making conversation with his customers as is their habit and it’s often a good habit. However, one must always take into account who he’s talking to and who else can hear him, considering a business is a public domain that depends on its customers for survival. This particular air-brush artist failed to take this into consideration. He took the care to ask my friends (who likely disagree with me but are polite enough not to insult me over it) “You didn’t vote for Obama, did you?” When they told him no, he proceeded recklessly and without care with “Good because people who voted for him are just too stupid to talk to.” Being the well raised Southern Lady I am, I quietly walked out of the store. Pacing outside I contemplated what to say that would hit home and send the message I wanted to send without compromising my own dignity or stooping to his level. I calmed myself down and awaited my friends and I did come to a conclusion as to how to respond.
– So when my friends left the store, I excused myself and assured them I’d be back. I entered the store and he cheerfully greeted me with “Yes ma’am?” I responded with “I just wanted to let you to know that those of us who are too stupid to talk to at least know to think before we speak in a place of business.” I said it with fire in my eyes that betrayed my barely contained rage. I spoke in a low and clear voice without a crack nor shake and his response was a shocked speechlessness that was quite satisfying as it told me I hit home with the message I intended to send. I sent the message loud and clear that his insult to me and those who think like me will be spread far and wide and that many of you, like me, will never set foot in Alvin’s Island much less spend any money there. That’s not to say Alvin’s Island is responsible for the actions of their employee. Just that his actions turned me off on their store.
– Freedom of speech, you see, comes with responsibility. If you shirk that responsibility, you suffer the consequences of that untethered speech. You receive the responses of others who take offense to your speech. You pay the price. I am quite certain that the artist in Alvin’s Island will never forget me nor that incident because you may forget what people say to you but you never forget what they made you feel. I made him feel shame and chagrin wrought by his own words being thrown back at him from a vastly different perspective. Say what you will, but you might want to consider the possibilities of their consequences, because once said, they cannot be retracted.
– This lesson is going around lately. And it’s going to make its rounds before it’s done in a karmic thoroughness. Not just a response to spoken words but written words and their passage into law. Indiana is currently learning this lesson in that it’s losing business as a result of its passage of its harshly worded religious freedom restoration law. And now, Arkansas has followed suit and will soon follow with the consequences. This country has a history of fighting for equality and against discrimination. Laws like these gut discrimination protections and those of us who support them and fight for them even now are not happy about it. And the best action we can take is to let them suffer the consequences of their actions by taking our business elsewhere.
– And then there’s Georgia, where Josh McKoon is dead set on forcing his pro-discrimination legislation disguised as a religious freedom protection bill through and get it on the books despite the protests by the locals and the warnings from the NFL and other businesses who have withdrawn their business from Indiana already and have warned that they will take their business elsewhere if Georgia passes this bill into law. Indiana’s economy will suffer for their new law as will Arkansas and if it’s passed in Georgia, we will suffer too.
– I am an American through and through. And I will fight for our right to the freedoms guaranteed by the bill of rights regardless of whether I agree with you or not. I understand that freedom of speech is the right to say anything you wish. It does not, however, guarantee protection from the consequences of said speech. And I’m not going to stand in the way of those consequences. You bring that on yourself with your speech choices. So you might want to think before you speak. And you might want to consider the consequences before you pass laws designed to allow the denial of rights to others, because the rights denied may eventually be your own. Because you might consider your business to be an extension of yourself and entitled to your opinion and the freedom to express it, but it’s also public domain and as such can sink or swim based on how the public sees it, and you