It seems that today’s political climate is all to occupied with why basic Constitutional rights need to be preserved, and there is a big problem with that.
Critics of the Second Amendment complain that Americans don’t need guns nowadays, so why protect the right to have them? Others attack the Fourth Amendment by arguing that law abiding citizens have nothing to hide, so go ahead and search ‘em! The Tenth Amendment, for a long time, has been disintegrated by progressives who gladly forfeit their rights to the central government in exchange for welfare programs and freebies. Who needs rights when you can have free groceries, right??
Hyperbole or not, this willingness of Americans to relinquish the rights protected by the Constitution is the parasite that is deteriorating the integrity of our country. The worrisome part is that a lot of people who claim they believe in the Constitution… don’t. When issues get tough and gritty and uncomfortable, people are often willing to compromise their rights for “the common good.”
In truth, the common good is a subjective term. Sure, one could argue that the common good lies in equality and equal opportunity, even at the cost of freedom. However the Founding Fathers determined that liberty is the end-all-be-all. Its protection is the only way to ensure justice, and therefore, equality. James Madison wrote in his 51st issue of The Federalist Papers, “Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.” That said, it baffles me that so many Americans have lost sight of what is truly just: liberty, as ensured by the Constitution.
In a political science college course with some of the brightest students in my class, I discovered that a shocking number of my peers faltered in their defense of basic First Amendment rights, specifically the freedom of speech. Our discussion of “where to draw the line” in protecting speech lasted for days. Some students wanted to draw the line at intolerant speech, or explicit speech, or hate speech, arguing that the government should not protect it, and therefore limit it by law.
Sounds kinda nice right? Protect the common good by making harmful expressions illegal. Maybe, except for the fact that doing so is in conflict with the Constitution. Its rhetoric goes, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.” Yet every one of my classmates who voiced their opinion wanted to make some sort of exception to limit free speech. So, does this mean that all of my peers don’t really believe in the Constitution?
When asked if I would want to protect hate speech, by law, I answered yes. Violence inciting speech? Sure. Explicit speech? Why not? These are all just catch phrases for nasty kinds of speech that humans have the natural right to voice. As philosopher J. S. Mill put it, “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”
In signing the Constitution, our Founding Fathers agreed that all speech is worth protecting. Speech is opinion and self-expression, and no person or body of people has the right to regulate it. I realize that speech often causes a lot of destruction. Slander can cause a business to tank, verbal harassment can cause psychological damage, graphic and explicit speech can poison the minds of children, the list goes on. However, the argument that protecting all types of speech will inevitably result in harm does not authorize restrictions against it. The government is not justified in preventing harm, but rather in ensuring rights.
Many Americans are troubled by the struggle between safety and unlimited speech, so they call for some limitations (i.e. laws criminalizing slander, libel, and harassment.) However, that conundrum feeds off of a misunderstanding of the just purpose of government. It is understandable that the populous would want limits on speech because they have become accustomed to the government being the providing source for prosperity. After all, that is what it has evolved into in the past century. When there is dissatisfaction or a breech in safety, the government often steps in and attempts to alleviate it. Speech regularly interrupts peace of mind and livelihood, so the people turn to the government for a solution. This behavior is ignorant in nature.
Although our leadership can and will step in to prevent harm, it never promised to for such menial situations, and was not designed to. As James Madison argued, justice will be pursued until liberty is infringed upon. This means that it is within the Government’s right and duty to ensure justice within the parameters of the Bill of Rights. Any law negating or extending those provisions would be unjust. Whether it is the 21st Century or the 40th, inalienable rights are timeless. The right to protect yourself with modern weaponry, the right to say what you want to say, the right to privacy or any other Constitutional right should always be defended.
A society who relies on the government for their livelihood might call these rights into question. Much of American society relies on the government for its protection, its information, and its security, so individual rights have become less essential, and even something to be feared. On the contrary, this reliance highlights the problems with the way government is expanding, not problems with the natural rights themselves. There need not be any modifications to the vastness of freedom that the Constitution provides, but rather to what the people expect out of government and what they are willing to do for themselves.
Our country need not be so willing to give up their rights in exchange for the false security that the government might promise. As long as speech can be regulated by law, as long as the press is monitored and selective, and as long as the powers that be can criminalize Americans for voicing their ideas, democracy and intellectual progress is crippled.
Chloe Varvell | Cal State Bakersfield | @ChloeVarvell