I sometimes think that I am from a different era…one where people didn’t use so many obscenities. In reality, I am from that era, because on June 24, 1957, when I was just a 14 months old, the United States Supreme Court ruled that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees free speech and freedom of the press. Call me old fashioned, but when I hear someone screaming at their own child, using every obscenity known to man, it makes me cringe. Calling our children such horrible names, can’t possibly be a good way to teach them self esteem. The United States Supreme Court agreed, according to Roth v. United States, a case decided in 1957. Samuel Roth of New York City was convicted of mailing obscene materials. On appeal his conviction was affirmed by the Supreme Court, which held that obscenity was not protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The court ruled that “material is obscene if, to the average person applying contemporary community standards, the dominant overall theme appeals to prurient interest.”
These days, we are bombarded with obscenities and profanities…everything from the f-bomb to the names we call people we don’t particularly like. Television shows use obscenities on just about every show, and our children are growing up to think that not only is it ok to call people such names, but its ok to be constantly angry…and to let everyone around you know it. It seems to me that as all the obscenities became commonplace, so did anger. And anger breeds hate, which in turn breeds things like road rage, bullying, and even murder.
Now, that we have the freedom to say the things that we do, another problem has come to light…hate speech. What is hate speech? It never used to be a thing, although it did exist…it just didn’t have a name, per se. So we have somehow come full circle, to a degree. While the Supreme Court used to say that we can’t use obscenities or profanities, and then suddenly we could, now we find ourselves with the necessity to decide if something said is “hate speech” or not, and if it is, then has the right to free speech been denied. Why is one thing different than the other? Believe me, I don’t like either kind of talk…hate or obscene, but if one is “illegal” then shouldn’t the other also be “illegal.” Or, should we have any say at all? It is a vicious circle to be sure. I guess that in reality, it is a moral issue. We have slipped so far from the moral values of our ancestors that our world almost doesn’t even resemble that of the era I was raised in, and certainly bears no resemblance to the era of our ancestors. While I can’t say exactly how to solve this dilemma, I think that maybe the best solution lies within each of us. Maybe we need to walk away from the situations that make us angry. Maybe we need to be more careful of the speech and behaviors that we show to our children. Maybe we need to teach our children that other people have a right to their opinion too, and it is not up to us to be their verbal police. Maybe we need to take offense less, and show compassion more. No matter what the ultimate solution is, there is no doubt in my mind that it begins in the human heart.
A few days ago, I wrote about the United States Constitution, and how it was ratified by Massachusetts, with the condition that it be amended to include some rights that they felt were very important. On this day, September 25, 1789, those amendments were created. The first ten became the Bill Of Rights. These amendments would not be ratified until December 15, 1791. These days, there is some confusion and some complete ignorance as to the meaning of some of these rights…especially the first amendment. I can’t count the number of times that I have heard that according to the constitution, we are to have separation of church and state. That could not be further from the truth, and in fact would be an impossibility. The very idea that a person who holds political office could separate his or her religious values from their voting on matters concerning laws of the land is insane, and it is not what our forefathers meant when the Bill of Rights was created. The first amendment reads, “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.” All the first amendment…the part concerning religion, anyway…means is that Congress in not allowed to make a law saying that the United States is going to be one certain religion. England had such a law, and that was one of the main reasons the pilgrims left there.
Religion has been in the news a lot lately, and there have been many arguments about it. Which brings me to the next part of the first amendment “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” People don’t have to agree with my views on religion, but they are prohibited from telling me that I cannot express my religious views in speech, or on the internet. There are a lot of people telling other people that they have no right to talk or post about their religion, but they are completely wrong. We have every right to do so. Contrary to what some people might think, these rights are not negotiable…they are absolute. I can’t tell others not to talk about their religion, and they can’t tell me not to. It is the law.
As to “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”, we may not always agree with what people say, and sometimes it isn’t nice, but they have a right to speak. They have a right to give their opinion, whether others like it or not. By the same token, we have the right not to like what is said, and thereby we can decide not to like the person. That is our choice. The same applies to the press. That is the main reason why so many people just don’t believe a word some rag newspapers print. They can say what they want…true or not.
There are so many other violations of the Bill of Rights, that it would take a book to list them all, but I would really encourage everyone to get a copy of the Bill Of Rights, and find out for yourself exactly what is written there. Every time we allow our rights to be trampled on, we lose a little bit of the rights that we were intended to have through the Constitution and the Bill Of Rights. The longer those violations are allowed to go on, the more people think that they understand their rights, when they really don’t, and so they end up giving their rights away. Our Constitution and the Bill Of Rights, and indeed, all the amendments to the Constitution, are so important to each and every one of us, and we need to know what is there, so that when some branch of the government steps on those rights, and someone speaks out about it, we don’t find ourselves on the wrong side of the issue. It really isn’t about whether or not we agree with the issue, but whether or not it is legal, because if the government will take away one right illegally, they will also take away another right illegally, and someday, they will get to one that affects you…but by then, it may be too late to stop an already runaway government.