With social media and the wide open access people now have to expressing their views publicly on any topic or person, I can help but notice the ironic beauty of what the founders wanted when they strove to protect “freedom of speech”, not just with the First Amendment but also the Constitution in general.
There seems to be a constant refrain that offending someone is the worst and perhaps the most dire of sins.
The assumption implicit in that belief is that there must be some outside force or power, i.e. government, who can prevent offensive statements or behavior while protecting those who would be offended.
That’s not the role the founders gave to the federal government. They decided that it should never be left for government to decide what does or doesn’t offend someone. The side effect of true liberty would be allowing offense to exist. Hence, the First Amendment and the Constitution only prevent one group of people from retaliating or reacting to the offense that free speech inevitably produces. That one group?
This means that Americans citizens can legally offend and be offended all the time, every day. And they do. Liberty produces a vast array of opinions, ideologies, belief systems, unique personalities, individual idiosyncrasies, prejudices and the like. In other words, American citizens are legally allowed to verbally be jerks. Key word, legally. American citizens cannot legally physically harm someone, but in America, words are akin to thoughts. If we can’t speak free of government control or coercion, we can’t think free of government control or coercion.
Free societies cannot exist without the ability to offend or be offended–without government interference. Think about the jury trial. How would any trial occur without one party offending the other? It couldn’t happen. What about any sort of political, religious, ideological or partisan compromise that must occur? Are these attainable without offending someone or being offended? What about interviewing, firing, or handling any business situation? Can any of this be done without offending or being offended? What about relationships and life in general? Deep conversations between friends, spouses, siblings or family that require digging deep to really work out issues, can these can done without offense or should we all tiptoe around each other’s feelings, keeping every relationship and conversation as deep as a puddle?
Offending and being offended is a part of liberty and part of life. Everyone is different and that means someone is always going to be offended about something in a free society.
That also means that people who are offended are free to express their feelings in response. Social, economic and emotional repercussions to one’s words are free to be expressed. The only group prevented from responding is government. So, this means if a business wants to fire or hire someone based off of something they said, so be it. If friends or family yell and scream in response to something offensive another family member said, so be it.
If someone on twitter is upset or hurt by something someone else tweeted, so be it.
Being free to speak, being free to offend or be offended is often messy, and not always pretty… but when is life ever always pretty and never messy? That’s not reality.
Living in a world where no one offends or no one is offended is not reality, and if it does exist, it’s only because some government has unnaturally made it so.
Liberty exposes the ugly, beautiful and messy reality of people offending each other and either working it out or lashing out in response.
And in America, government is not allowed to protect you from the messy reality of being offended.
The Liberty Belle