Commentary

Free Speech and PC Seem to Be on a Collision Course

By STEPHEN R. GROUS | Jul 31, 2019

One of our basic rights, guaranteed under the First Amendment of our Constitution, freedom of speech, is being slowly attacked and worn away. I find the increasing frequency with which this is occurring a disturbing trend.

It is not being done by any single group or faction with this as a specific objective, but by a number of small vocal groups and individuals, in the name of political correctness, who become offended by more and more things said. It seems to be coming from everywhere: the media, politicians, various interest groups and individuals who focus on certain words or symbols, often out of context, by saying, “I find this offensive.”

If you disagree with someone, all you need to say is that you are offended by something they say and label that person with an extremist title. No one wants the widespread use of inflammatory rhetoric, but sometimes language that makes some people uncomfortable is needed to have a clear discussion. One thing political correctness does is effectively shut down any discussion about anything “politically incorrect.”

Unfortunately, these are the topics that most often need to be discussed. I am not talking about extreme views on either end of the political spectrum, either. This results in people of varying views not speaking or saying anything. This trend, to not say anything rather than risk the consequences of being labeled something you are not, seems to be growing. This is a dangerous and slippery slope to be heading down. Additionally, is this not offensive to the person so labeled?

I am not advocating the widespread use of demeaning, derogatory and hateful speech. Common sense should tell us this is not the correct way to behave. People do often use politically incorrect speech, sometimes to be hateful, but many times just because of ignorance. This may be from the culture in which many were brought up or the way something was taught in school. Yes, times have changed. What is said is often not said in hate. Keeping up with political correctness, the way it constantly changes, is not the easiest task.

There is also the context of time. I was born in the early ’50s, and the cultural norms and standards have changed tremendously since I was a youth. One trend I find very disturbing is the way history is being viewed today by applying current standards and culture parameters to it. What happened in the past happened! We cannot ignore this. Not everything was done correctly. Many things were not. We cannot cherry pick historical facts and view them out of context and condemn the people who made these decisions. Times were different; people acted and made decisions according to the norms of the times.

I wholeheartedly agree that some of the decisions made in the past were not correct, but many were. With the passage of time and when viewed by today’s norms, we need to change them. Let us remember these decisions made at the time were generally thought to be the best solution. Times have changed. How will some of our decisions be viewed 50, 100 or 200 years from now?

Can we please try to get the facts right before we blast our founding fathers as being evil? The recent incident of the Betsy Ross flag is a great example. Yes, we had slavery when the flag was made. Yes, slavery is wrong. Yes, slavery was an injustice. Slavery is one of the most atrocious crimes mankind can commit. Betsy Ross was a Quaker. The Quakers started the anti-slavery movement long before the idea of a revolution was born. She did not make the original flag of this country as a symbol of slavery. She made it at the request of George Washington, as a symbol of unity.

Prior to this flag, each state either marched under its own flag or used the red and white striped flag with a British Union Jack in the corner. Washington realized we needed a flag to symbolize our unity and rally us to fight for our freedom from Great Britain. He asked Betsy Ross to make a flag that showed the unity of our new country, not as a symbol of slavery. Many brave men died for that flag and the principles for which it stands.

Let us show our respect and gratitude for these patriotic men by being able to fly this flag in their honor. If we let those who want to make it a symbol of hate and division prevent this flag from being flown, to honor the past patriots, then we are giving up some of our rights of liberty and freedom.

By the way, I proudly flew this flag during our country’s 200th birthday. I flew it for what it was meant to represent. I flew it to honor the brave men who died to secure the freedoms I enjoy today. It appalls me to think that if I flew this same flag today, many of my fellow countrymen would label me a pro-slavery, bigoted supremacist without a second thought.

On a similar thought, should we condemn our Constitution or all the presidents before Abraham Lincoln on the grounds of being offensive because slavery was still practiced in this country when its Constitution was written or when these men were presidents?

Our forefathers, in writing the Constitution, were trying to protect the liberty and freedom of the people of this country. Our forefathers were smart enough to realize it was not perfect. They readily admitted that, and provided a means to make changes as times changed. Let us not condemn our forefathers for making “bad” decisions; let us thank them for giving us the Fifth Amendment, the power to change our Constitution. Let us thank them by not restricting our rights of liberty and freedom. The more restrictions we put on what we do or say, the more we limit our freedom and liberty.

Lastly, political correctness suppresses and deletes what we can say. Let us look at the definition of the verb censor: “to examine in order to suppress or delete anything thought to be harmful or dangerous.” Do we need censoring? Do we need to look at only the negatives of the past? Political correctness and changing or ignoring history are nothing more than censorship. Common sense and courtesy can do the same thing as censorship, but in a much less restrictive way. Will people still say derogatory and hateful things? I am sure they will. They have every bit as much of a right to say what they believe. Nothing is forcing you to agree with what they say. Be a bigger person; let the haters say what they want. They will get a lot less attention if they are ignored.

I fully expect that I have “offended” some people. I also fully expect to see some responses that I disagree with and some that will offend me. Guess what? This is what free speech is about: people having the right to express the ideas they believe in. It is up to you to decide if you agree with them or not.

Stephen R. Grous lives in Ship Bottom.

 

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