After the January 8th attempted assassination of Congresswoman ‘Gabby’ Giffords, many politicians started blaming each other for inciting the violence that occurred. Incitement has been an ongoing issue since the early Colonial days of America. This was such an issue that our Founding Fathers’ wrote an amendment to insure that all Americans have the right to free speech without fear of prosecution from state and government. Even though incitement is never the real issue in such cases of violence, some politicians believe the Constitution and the American Government has the right to govern speech if ‘they’ consider said speech to have a violent tone. The foundation of America was built upon personal responsibility and individual accountability; these will faultier if the Constitution is ‘amended’.
Incitement: Finger Pointing Politics
On January 8th 2011, Jared Loughner shot Congresswoman ‘Gabby’ Giffords and 19 others. Six innocent people were murdered that day; gunned down by a mentally disturbed young man at a Safeway store in Tucson, Arizona (The Associated Press, NBC, msnbc.com, 2011). In the aftermath of this tragedy, politicians are blaming the violence on incitement, each pointing their rude political finger at the other’s behavior and language (Gist, 2010.p.1). America is in a new generation of diversion and denial; diverting the real issue, and denying the truth. The truth is that every American has the right to free speech according to the Constitution of the United States of America! The truth is that Jared Loughner is mentally ill, and could have gotten his distorted ideology from a number of media sources! The real issue in this case is (and is the case in 90% of these tragedies) lack of Mental Health intervention! Politicians and government need to address the real issues and stop the political rhetoric. America needs to point their finger at the real offender, putting the accountability on the responsible person.
Unfortunately, the cartoon image to the right (MS Word 07) is how Americans view our politicians; always attacking each other, and fighting over promises that are never kept. Yet, this in no way gives an individual the right to gun them down in cold blood. Dictionaire Philosopique, 1764, suggests, “We have a natural right to make use of our pens as of our tongue, at our peril, risk and hazard”, (Guillemets, 2010.p2). So, although we may have a moral responsibility to speak with caution, we do not have a legal one. In an interview, Law Professor Gregory Stone tells Talk of the Nation host Neal Conan that it would take an extreme case of clear association to the criminal’s activities for a conviction to occur in the United States. Professor Stone goes on to suggest that:
“As long as the [offender] is thought to have had sufficient opportunity to make an independent decision about whether or not to commit a criminal act or not…the law will essentially say, punish the [offender]…not the speaker” (Conan, 2006.p.5).
With over 360 billion Americans invoking their right to free speech, someone is bound to get offended. We should then teach tolerance, patients, and responsible behavior, instead of governing speech. If Americans now let our words be governed, may none of us ever speak again!
We must beware of those who point at another, more so than the ones that are being pointed at. Most times the one, who brings another’s actions to light, is hoping their actions are left in the dark. For example, Bill Clinton has opened his lying pie-hole again accusing others of inappropriate language and conduct, the Tea Party, Republicans, and Sara Palin, boy does he have his nerve. It was not long ago he stood in front of the country and lied like a tacked down rug, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”, stated then President Bill Clinton during an investigation into his conduct. Others like Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh are joining in on the blame game. Yet, they are two of the main ‘military’ motor mouths in the media (Gist, 2010.p.1). The politicians must stop this political rhetoric and blame game; incitement is not the issue and rarely is.
The whole world is saddened by the tragedy that fell upon our fellow Americans that fateful day in Tucson, Arizona; no one wants to see this kind of thing happen. In the vast wasteland called media, this mentally disturbed young shooter could have gotten his ideology from any of the distasteful programs produced across the airwaves (The Associated Press, NBC News, msnbc.com, 2011.p 3-5). The government has cut mental health benefits and program funding time and time again; now they want to divert and deny the results of those actions (which is par for the course of government and politics). Incitement should not be the issue here; lack of proper mental health care is. Furthermore, the only mouths that should be shackled are the ones that are pointing fingers and purposely diverting the real issue, keeping the political rhetoric heated. Americans will not be silenced, no matter the cost. Our people have fought too hard for the freedoms of this country.
The cuts in mental health benefits have been progressively getting deeper since 2009. State agencies and communities are growing concerned and angry about the dangers of those who may go untreated. It seems that those cuts being made are just being passed on to other community agencies; emergency rooms across the country are now trying to deal with the crisis (Goodman, 2011.p 1-4). The problem with that is mental illnesses like ‘schizophrenia’ and ‘bi-polar disorder’ are not easily managed, even in a psychiatric setting; American hospital emergency rooms are certainly not equipped to handle these issues. “I’d be screwed and there would be a lot of crazy people on the street and I don’t think the city would be safe,” said a Seattle woman in response to the cuts made in 2010, which cut doctors, medications, and related programs (Brill, 2010.p.1). These are the tyranny behaviors that should dominate our airwaves after such tragedies as the Tucson shooting. Freedom of speech is rarely the issue in these cases; one just has to see past the political rhetoric to find the true cause.
Even if incitement were the issue, time and again the high courts have upheld the Constitutional right to free speech. Throughout history some American rebels have been arrested for incitement (criminal syndication laws); however, those cases have since been overturned or pardoned. The very first critical case in America was in 1919; Charlotte Anita Whitney was convicted for invoking her free speech at a gathering thrown by the “Communist Labor Party”. Whitney was pardoned a short time later by the then Governor of California, although, the Supreme Court later held up the previous conviction (Whitney v. California, 2011.p 1-3). The next important case to freedom of speech was a Ku Klux Klan leader named Clarence Brandenburg. Brandenburg publically burned crosses and called for the execution of Negroes, he also called for the deportation of all Jews back to Israel. Mr. Brandenburg was convicted in the 1960’s for his outlandish behavior and language; however, this conviction was overturned in 1969 by the higher courts. Case after case in America has proven time and again, that freedom of speech is a natural human right that cannot and should not be governed (The Gale Group, 1999.p 3-4).
If Free Speech were to become governed there would be extreme consequences. America was built upon the principle of personal responsibility; that will faultier if someone else can be blamed in some way, possibly casting a ‘shadow of a doubt’. John Stuart Mill, on liberty (1859) wisely stated;
“If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if had the power, would be justified in silencing all mankind”, (Guillemets, 2010.p. 4).
That is a powerful quote, and there are a plethora of others similar to that one. Yet, none are as powerful as the First Amendment Right of the Constitution of the United States of America;
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or for prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances”, (The Washington Times, 2010).
There was a time when that Amendment was the most important in the Constitution; the Founding Fathers’, pictured in the MS Word imagery on the right, intended for ‘We the People’ to be free. Now there are some that want to modify that right. Elected Justice Elena Kagan suggests that a ‘redistribution of speech’ method would fix the issue. Kagan goes on to suggest that the government has a ‘right’ to govern speech if that speech incites violence or hate (The Washington Times, 2010. p 1-2). Maybe President Obama should rethink his nomination. The foundation of America was built upon the Constitution of the United States; the people will not allow such tyranny.
In conclusion: All Americans should look deep within themselves for their own faults and modify their own personal imperfections; pointing fingers compares to gossiping, the action only makes the accusing person look guilty. Freedom of speech should be nothing short of self governed. And American politicians and government need to set an example of the behaviors they want ‘We the People’ to invoke. Finally, the American Government and its staff will do what ‘We the People’ allow them to. The government should address the real issue in these cases instead of taking political advantage of a tragedy.
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Brill, L. (2010, December 6). Mental health experts worry funding cuts may lead to unsafe
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Conan, N. (2006, February 8). Incitement and the limits of free speech. Talk of the Nation.
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