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With freedom of speech comes responsibilities for Americans

Date: 5/8/2015

The beauty and burden of having freedom of speech is the ability of people speaking their mind and realizing that some folks have little constructive to say.

The United States Constitution defines the First Amendment this way: “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.”

Over the years, the nation has modified the definition of free speech. The classic example of a restriction is yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. We can’t libel people. We can’t make false or misleading claims in advertising.

Hate is allowed. We are allowed to say and print all sorts of statements that people would find offensive. Now, the vehicles for free speech can maintain standards – which is also an exercise in their free speech – that some might see as a prohibition of their opinions. Thank goodness the Internet solves that issue. The web allows everyone to say whatever comes into his or her minds.

I find fascinating the arguments about an anti-Muslim group that went out of its way to antagonize people who follow that faith. The American Freedom Defense Initiative sponsored an event in which people were asked to gather to draw the Prophet Muhammad – something Islam prohibits.

As I’m sure you know this resulted in two extremists coming to the event with weapons and with intent to murder people. They were stopped and killed by a police officer.

What was accomplished here? Please explain that to me. A hate group wanted to offend people – people they don’t even know personally. They picked an action they knew would garner publicity and it prompted two men to react in the worst possible manner. This is a victory?

Were any problems solved here? Do we have any greater understanding about why an American citizen would be radicalized? No. Do we have any better means of speaking to law-abiding Muslim Americans about issues or perceptions that might isolate them from the mainstream? No.

If the people who participated in the event consider themselves Christians do they honestly believe that doing something to offend another religious group aligns with the teachings of Christ? I’m not a Biblical scholar, so please show me where in the New Testament this kind of action is condoned or encouraged.

The people scrawling their cartoons were wrong, but protected. The gunmen were certainly wrong. Two groups of weak-minded deluded people pitted themselves against one another so the political goals of The American Freedom Defense Initiative could be advanced. Yeech.

This is nothing new. We’ve struggled with this concept from almost the minute it was ratified as part of the Constitution. Freedom of speech is a demanding standard. It requires us to `understand context and motive and desires that we be responsible in what we express.

It does protect us, though, when we’re not responsible and that is a very difficult concept.

Change of seasons and issues re-emerge

Ah spring. I can sit on my deck with a Scotch and cigar and relax. I can goof off in my back porch and watch something mindless on the laptop. I can fall asleep with the sun warming my face.

And I can hear a guy on the next street over scream how he is more important than Obama. I’ve omitted the adjectives and adverbs he used.

I can watch how the people whose backyard abuts my backyard keep a dog on a chain all the time so that animal barks – a lot. I can walk around the cars parked illegally on my side of the street and up on my sidewalk. I can turn the TV up louder in my living room to counter the throbbing beats coming from a parked car next door while folks have an impromptu party.

Not everyone on my neighborhood behaves this way, but all it takes is a handful of people to cause a disturbance that rest of us must endure.

I don’t blame the cops. They are concentrating their resources on higher crime areas. They are being driven by data, which makes sense. An obnoxious neighbor doesn’t pose a physical threat to me, at least on paper.

What I would like is some recourse, some means of getting the drunk loud guy to shut up, to get the neighbors who are driving a dog insane to understand what they are doing and to alert my neighbors to how parking should work and that I don’t want to listen to their music.

In the past, I’ve spoken to some neighbors about their behavior. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

It’s not crime in my neighborhood that concerns me. It’s simple human consideration. What government agency deals with that?

Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.