Freedom of Speech and Political Correctness


robert-M.-Scott – By Robert Scott –

There have been several articles in the papers recently, about Political Correctness (PC) and Freedom of Speech. Those are two related but distinct concepts; recent events make it worthwhile to write about both. All of us were appalled by the recent murders in Paris and elsewhere, allegedly spurred by “politically incorrect” cartoons published in the magazine Charlie Hebdo. Having said that, the cartoons themselves were clearly designed to be deliberately provocative and several were arguably obscene. Whose sensitivities, indeed whose freedom, was violated by their publication? Whose would be violated by their prohibition?

Our Founding Fathers were gentlemen, and in the culture of their day intentional rudeness was an affront that not infrequently let to a duel, and possibly to the death of one party or the other. And yet these same gentlemen enshrined in the Bill of Rights one of the world’s first guarantees of Freedom of Speech. Are Freedom of Speech and politeness – and, by extension, Political Correctness – compatible?

At its base, what is Freedom of Speech, a concept important enough to be the major subject of the very First Amendment? In our Constitution, Freedom of Speech is not written as an empowerment of citizens to speak whatever they wish, but rather as a restriction on what government can do: “Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech, or of the press.” The Constitution does not restrict what an employer can do about an employee’s speech, nor your neighbor about yours, nor your school about your children’s. It does not even restrict what your state government can do about your speech; restricting the States’ ability to abridge Freedom of Speech was not guaranteed until the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment. Regarding Freedom of Speech, the Constitution in this instance only guarantees freedom from governmental restriction, no more than that.

What, then, is Political Correctness? At its base, it is being polite – but politeness as defined by somebody else, with whom we might not agree, is itself problematic. ‘PC’ has justly earned the stigma of being overly sensitive, too restrictive. Part of that sensitivity though, like Political Correctness itself, is entirely in the eyes of the beholder. In politics, conservatives view restraint against saying anything bad about gay marriage or militant Islam as PC run amok. Liberals view not criticizing military malfeasance or questioning police treatment of minorities as PC run amok. If I were to write a column about rooting out racial bigotry in the State Law Enforcement Division, and am roundly criticized for unfairly portraying our law enforcement professionals, my Freedom of Speech is not in jeopardy. If I write a column about Sam Crouch’s hardware store and decry handgun sales – and the Editor of this paper were to decide not to run it – that’s not about Freedom of Speech, either. (For the record, I just made that up, it never happened.) Newspapers have the absolute right to decide what to print, and what not to print. But if I were to write such an article, and the County government were to weigh in to prohibit its publication before or after the fact, that would violate my Freedom of Speech, not to mention the Advertiser’s Freedom of the Press. The same is true about cartoons about Mohammed or for that matter about Jesus, in good taste or in bad.

Let’s agree that, in the balance of things, the cartoons routinely published by Charlie Hebdo in Paris were rude, in poor taste, and deliberately provocative. I hope that their like will never be published in The Edgefield Advertiser. But let us also agree that if the government were to prohibit such publication, that prohibition would directly violate our Constitution and basic freedoms in any country, including France. It is, and it ought to be, totally legal to publish rude and offensive material. You don’t have to read it. Someone who decides to commit murder because they don’t like the publication, is a murderer and should be caught and punished as would be any other murderer. We should join together and fight against such “murder for the sake of my religion” (or yours). But let’s not then jump to the conclusion that rudeness and deliberate provocation, in speech or in print, is acceptable behavior. Legal, yes. Worth defending as a civil right in a free society, most certainly. But acceptable in polite society, no. And that is the appropriate defense of Political Correctness.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Edgefield Advertiser.
Have something to say? Please leave your comments below.

One Response to "Freedom of Speech and Political Correctness"

  1. Robert Loar   February 3, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    I take issue with your last article as I usually do with your ultra-left wing ideas that have become so pervasive in our society today. Political correctness is just being polite you say. Honestly you can’t believe what you are saying. Wouldn’t you agree that perhaps your neuro-linguistic programming has taken you far afield? Far a-left field? Perhaps we are talking about some metanarrative that you subscribe to that has become too over-reaching even for today’s “liberated” society, ala Karl poppers Open Society and Its Enemies.
    “Progressives” and that may be the umbrella you are currently standing beneath today are crafty not ingenuous. However one of your (relating to where you are now in your thinking) favorite sleights of hand is to disingenuously brand as “phobic” anyone with reasoned moral disapproval of their very unreasonable and immoral social deconstructionism.
    It works like this Robert: take any objective evil, let’s say, homosexual sin. You would state its prefix, “homo” and add phobia and there you have it. A person who holds to opposing views is magically transformed into a mythological left wing creature called a homophobe. As an American, I have the freedom and the right not to choose that lifestyle. I have the right to say, “I do not think that lifestyle is right.” If others choose that type of lifestyle, why are they so sensitive about it if I disagree? So much so that I must have a label? I do not have a label for them. I do not particularly like Brussels sprouts therefore I must be labeled a Brussels sprout-a-phobe? How about just saying he doesn’t care for their lifestyle? They may be great people, I just do not care for their lifestyle nor do I care for the underhanded way they and their liberal lackeys are thrusting their agenda on our children and youth. I’m not phobic, color me mad as hell.
    Let’s try another word, Islam. The president and the liberal media would call me an Islamaphobe. But, don’t you see it is not an illogical fear if someone is really taught to kill you. Islam is the religion of peace in the same way that rape is really snuggling. A central tenant of Islam is to convert, enslave or kill the infidel. That would be you Robert or anyone who is not Muslim or even depending on the one who is doing the killing just belongs to a different sect of Islam. My Christian upbringing did not teach me to kill those who are not Christian and anyone who says that that is a tenant of the Christian faith is sadly mistaken. The Quran says just that under the label jihad. Now when a group of Islamic thugs take their faith to the terroristic extreme as we do not hear about in the media, I must be phobic because I call them what they are, Islamic terrorists. That‘s not polite enough for you, Robert, now is it? Perhaps I should call them Islamic miscreants? Or perhaps I should call them the Isis JV Team like someone who doesn’t attend security briefings?
    Military malfeasance, Captain Robert? Are you still talking about $500 toilet seats or are you talking about sending the military into ebola infected areas? And with police treatment of minorities are you limiting your scope to just minorities or just law-breaking minorities or lawbreaking people of any group? I think I am in a minority because the media and you have gone off the deep end leaving me to question which country you belong to. Are there police who take their job the wrong way? Yes. Are there military that take their job the wrong way? Yes. How about this, are there polititians that take their jobs the wrong way? What about journalists? A big yes to that one, right Robert?
    If all of what I say is so bad, why get so mad when we point it out. As you quoted, “Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech or of the press.” Our press is largely the agenda of the liberal leaning as some have designated the “drive by media”. Once journalists researched what they were printing or espousing. Today they can be counted on to come up with what they think the story is or better what they want the story to be. When called out about the error, they ignore the facts and just go on to the next fabrication as I see you do and of course call the person in disagreement a “phobic”.
    America needs to wake up and realize that not everybody is going to agree with everyone else. It doesn’t mean that others are mean, bigoted or hateful if they disagree with your choices; it just means that they have the right not to agree with you.
    Do you remember that part of the oath you recited when you became an officer? The part where it said, “I do solemnly swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.” You were listening, right Robert? Ever wonder about who the domestic enemies were? Perhaps it is the liberal administration from the top down. Didn’t the president receive a similar oath? Guess it only applies to some.
    I am a retired Navy Captain also Robert and I sometimes think about how I would react to the women in my command coming to me to complain that a man is in their restroom (head). I’m sure I wouldn’t have said, “He’s a sensitive person and is just trying to be polite.” Read me as dumbfounded as I shake my head and walk away.