I’ve been thinking (always a danger): If out and out racism is referred to as bigotry, what do we call polite prejudice? Smallotry?
For that matter, is a man-hating woman guilty of mystersoginy? When the weatherman refers to a tropical depression, is he talking about how palm trees make him really sad? Lastly, will there be any end to this pathetically juvenile patter for a serious point?
How about this one: Is freedom of speech, as specified in the First Amendment, really free? The answer to that one is easy: Free speech is mighty expensive. The wealthy can swamp us everyday riffraff with their ability to buy out all the space and airtime, persuading the masses that maintaining the status quo — against our interests — is desirable.
Even with social media and its universal access, the minds of everybody can be easily twisted.
Besides, what is free speech anyway? Where is that line between acceptable expression (or what we claim to be acceptable expression) and unacceptable?
The answer is a mishmash of contradictory definitions. We can start with the “Fighting Words” doctrine, which grew out of a 1942 Supreme Court decision that still applies today: “Fighting words” were defined back then as words that “by their very utterance, inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.”
One of the issues in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial is whether then-President Trump intentionally meant to use “fighting words” when he incited the mob on Jan. 6 to invade the Capitol with deadly results.


But what about burning the American flag? The Supremes ruled 5-4 in 1990, that it was a constitutional right to burn the Stars and Stripes. It was the narrowest of decisions, with Antonin Scalia joining the majority, explaining 25 years later why he decided the way he did, which was such a surprise: “If it were up to me, I would put in jail every sandal-wearing, scruffy-bearded weirdo who burns the American flag, but I am not king.”
Such statesmanship was not Donald Trump’s strong suit. He demonized all the individual athletes who refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner”: “Get that son of a b— off the field, right now. Out. He’s fired!”
What about the freedom to say whatever you want about any individual? That’s obvious, you say; false statements about someone are covered by defamation law, libel and slander. But not if the injured party is a public figure ... usually. The current controversy is the responsibility of social media giants like Facebook and Twitter to police their users’ postings to make sure they don’t violate the code or are otherwise false and malignant.
Like nearly every aspect of the law, attorneys have seen to it that it’s twisted beyond understanding.
So have the other protections in the First Amendment: “religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ... or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” They have all been contorted by the legal profession and politicians.
Take freedom of religion, for instance. Which religion? Christians are the majority in the United States and many insist that they should be favored. What about Muslims and Jews? What about those who are members of more marginal faiths? What exactly is a religion, and who gets to decide?
Back to free speech. How does “cancel culture” factor in? Meaning the power to withdraw support of an individual or organization. For instance, to “cancel” a public appearance at a university — a supposed citadel of free thinking — just because someone has expressed thoughts that another has deemed reprehensible. Who gets to be the deemer, and what about the deemee?
In this country we have always prided ourselves on freedom of expression, but what we really have is a national Tower of Babel. Those who can babble the loudest dominate the conversation
© 2021 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 9, 2021 6:15 AM.

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