The High Cost of Free


The High Cost of Free Speech

Talking with a dear friend yesterday as I was leaving work, I found myself ruminating over the conversation. I had reported that there had been a great deal of backlash against the Dixie Chicks for some ill-considered statement or another one of them had made. My friend responded, "Nothing like free speech," implying that those who were burning Dixie Chicks CDs were somehow infringing upon the right of free speech. This notion offends me--profoundly. Free speech is not entirely without restrictions or accountability. If you say something that incenses those who used to be your friends, you will experience (and depending on what is said, should experience a backlash.)

It is a liberal trope that any reaction against speech you don't like infringes on that speech. Nonsense. All "free" speech must be paid for. Some pay in blood for all, others pay personally. But I don't see anyone crying in their beer when a Ms. Schott (is that the right name? Former or present owner of a Cincinnati ball team) is fined for speaking racial slurs. Isn't speech free? Shouldn't she be allowed to say what she wants? The way I see it, the proper response to something like this would have been for all persons of color to boycott, picket, protest, and petition all ball team players to strike, or exhibit some overt protest against the statement and the intent. I personally do not care to consort with those whose notions of human dignity and value are bound up inextricably with a sense of color, creed, or sex. When people who hold these notions exercise their right to free speech--persons of sensibility rightly shun them or attempt to correct them--they do not continue to encourage them in their speech.

So too with the Dixie Chicks. It is not censorship not to buy an album. It is not censorship to burn their work. It is not censorship to advise others not to buy their albums. It is not censorship to boycott their concerts. Censorship is a governmental work that prohibits the free dissemination of ideas or facts. By the fact that the work is already published, it is clearly not censored.

If people wish to hold unpopular ideas, they must be willing to pay the price for them. Heaven knows, as Catholics we pay that price on a nearly daily basis, and I am happy to pay it. But I also don't expect the world to suddenly curtail every utterance they might make against me. I attempt to correct these mistaken notions, and when that proves impossible or unlikely, I abandon the project, avoid the person, and pray.

So, free speech isn't about an unrestricted license to say whatever one wishes and expect that all will accept it with joyful open arms. Free speech IS about saying what is on your mind in full knowledge that some will disagree with you--perhaps vehemently. That is the price we personally pay. And if it is worth saying, it is worth paying that price. Otherwise, one would do well to follow the advice in the letter of James.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on March 20, 2003 7:32 AM.

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