Free Expression

Roger - Baltimore, Maryland
Entered on July 19, 2008

THIS I BELIEVE

I believe free expression is the life blood of civilization. The ability of an individual to express himself, privately or publicly, without fear of governmental, societal or organizational censorship is what makes our species special and our democracy precious. This belief is both simple and sophisticated. It means talkers can talk, writers can write, painters can paint, singers can sing and lovers can love. We live in a land where each of us is free to exchange whatever thoughts, opinions, ideas, concepts, visions, feelings and tales he or she wants, and in whatever way he or she chooses.

The struggle for the right to express oneself freely began, I’m sure, in a cave during a dispute over wall drawings or with anti-authoritarian comments over some tribal fire, and it took a long time for the concept to gain traction. The Magna Carta in 1215, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States helped make it possible for a small percentage of human beings to enjoy the free expression we take for granted. Because this freedom is neither free nor guaranteed I believe it must be preserved at any cost and each of us must be constant keepers of this delicate flame.

But, does my belief in free expression imply there should be no limits? Not at all, but there should be as few as possible. Such limitations as those against yelling fire in a crowded theatre, advocating the violent overthrow of our democratically elected government, and libel and slander are necessary boundaries that help protect this freedom. I would even go farther than some and submit there are carefully defined and compelling public interests, such as not discussing troop movements during wartime or preventing money from perverting our political system, which justify some diminution of this freedom. But almost every other form of expression –especially those the public feels are objectionable, offensive, repulsive, unpatriotic, sacrilegious or neither art nor a form of speech- should be unfettered. This includes outrageous acts of expression like burning the flag or lampooning the most sacred religious symbols. The antidote for offensive expression is more expression, especially of criticism and condemnation.

I believe in expression because growth (by individuals as well as societies) depends on it. Perhaps more importantly, expression is what connects the human family. If you view man’s unique capacity to think and to feel as the hub on a giant wheel, then all those spokes that connect us are free expressions. This I believe.