Everybody’s got a rock – Part III
By DS Gands
Aug 5, 2003
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“Censorship reflects a society's lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime. Long ago those who wrote our First Amendment charted a different course. They believed a society can be truly strong only when it is truly free. In the realm of expression they put their faith, for better or for worse, in the enlightened choice of the people, free from the interference of a policeman's intrusive thumb or a judge's heavy hand. So it is that the Constitution protects coarse expression as well as refined, and vulgarity no less than elegance. A book worthless to me may convey something of value to my neighbor. In the free society to which our Constitution has committed us, it is for each to choose for himself.” — Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, dissenting Ginzberg v. United States, 383 U.S. 463 (1966)

I agree with that.

One of the cast of characters on the Late Late Show joked that gay marriage should be allowed because everyone should be entitled to bondage to a loveless and miserable relationship.

I don’t agree with that.

All kinds of people everywhere express their conservative, moderate, or liberal views on issues, everyday.  I happen to think that is their right.  I also, happen to think it is not only my right, but my obligation, to express my viewpoint on any and every issue or subject, including those things that are truly objectionable, like obscenity or pornography, and questionable, like the integrity and character of those in positions of responsibility.  I do have an eye for imperfection, and I see it first, each morning when I look in the mirror, but I am an active participant in trying to learn, educate, and improve.  I am of the opinion that there is a great deal of good in this world – the greatest of which is freedom.

Everyone has the right to decide whether they like or dislike what someone else says or does.  No one has the right to deny another person his or her right of expression, whether it is deemed good or bad.  There are laws that delimit expression based on morals or security, but everybody’s got a rock and, in America at least, the right to use it.

Most of us go through life knowing that the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights exist, though we may have read portions of them from time to time in a Social Studies class, or even revisited them on an occasion of a specific interest.  They are the rules of democracy and should be required reading to be a citizen of the United States of America.

Being born in this nation leaves the citizens of it in a state of privilege.  We expect that the label ‘American’ gives us certain inalienable rights, and we seem to gather our perception of them through the spoken and written word of interpreters.  The knowledge of them is a powerful factor, but without understanding, we lack the wisdom to refrain from injurious applications in their name.

 The rights established by the Constitution and Bill of Rights are a birthright of Americans.  They are also, something about which, most Americans know little more than the clichés of the day.  Many use them like a club to exact censorship of those with adverse ideas, when in fact, the very breadth of the law is the protection of all expression in any form with the exception of obscenity, immorality, aggression or ‘fighting words’, and the associated information of National Security.

It is the right and the privilege of every person to have and express an opinion.  Intellectual freedom is the basis for this democratic system.  Americans expect people to be self-governors, but to do so responsibly, the citizenry must be well-informed.  If we do not know what another person believes or thinks, a democratic society cannot be maintained.  Choosing to disagree is acceptable, but participation in boycott because another expressed an idea is limiting one’s ability to be a viable contributor to any form of government. 

Expressed objection to a political idea or position is equal to sustaining the idea or position, in that all perspectives are allowed in a democracy and protected under the law.  Censorship is the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons consider objectionable or dangerous.   These are complicated issues, but simple in that it is no different than someone saying that no one should read a particular book, or purchase a particular magazine, view a certain film, or read a newspaper article simply based on the fact that they object to it.

People who want to censor try to use the power of the state to impose their view on everyone of what is truthful and appropriate, or offensive and objectionable to them.  They exact pressure on public institutions, such as libraries, to suppress and remove from public access information they judge inappropriate or dangerous, trying to eliminate the availability to others without the opportunity to judge it for themselves.  A censor wants to prejudge all others and predetermine what is available to and for everyone.

Censorship occurs when expressive materials, like books, magazines, newspapers, films and videos, or works of art, are removed from public access.   By exacting some form of leverage on schools, libraries, book and video stores, publishers,, or art galleries, if they are successful in the removal, they limit themselves, as well.   Censorship also occurs when materials are restricted to particular audiences of one kind or another.  Suppression and oppression lead to ignorance and hatred, and these are the true destructors of a free society.

In most instances, a censor is a sincerely concerned individual who believes that censorship can improve society, protect children, and restore what they see as lost moral values.   However, under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, each of us has the right to read, view, listen to, and disseminate constitutionally protected ideas, even if someone finds those ideas offensive.

In expressing their opinions and concerns, would-be censors are exercising the same rights many seek to protect.  In making their criticisms known, people who object to certain ideas are exercising the same rights as those who created and disseminated the material to which they object.  Their right to voice opinions and try to persuade others to adopt those opinions is protected equally as the rights of persons to express ideas they want removed from public access are protected.   Many notable figures in history have written and spoken on this subject and have determined that the rights of both sides must be protected, or neither will survive.  Participation in the debate is one thing, censorship is quite another.

Censors might sincerely believe that certain materials are so offensive, or that some present ideas that are so hateful and destructive to society, that access to them must be eliminated.   Some express concerns that younger or weaker people will be badly influenced by bad ideas or those ideas that they determine to be ‘bad’, and they will do bad things as a result of exposure to them.   Others believe that there is a very clear distinction between ideas that are right and morally uplifting, and ideas that are wrong and morally corrupting, and wish to ensure that society has the benefit of their perception. They believe that certain individuals, certain institutions, even society itself, will be endangered by particular ideas disseminated without restriction. What these censors often do not consider is that they may be successful in suppressing an idea they do not like today, but it may turn on them, and others may suppress their ideas tomorrow.  The elimination process could render us devoid of progress and the ability to function as a democratic society.

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that there are certain narrow categories of speech that are not protected by the First Amendment, like obscenity, child pornography, defamation, and aggression or “fighting words,” or speech that incites immediate and imminent illegal activity or actions.  Our governmental branches and their functionaries are allowed to enforce secrecy of some information when it is considered essential to national security, such as operations in time of war, classifying information about defense, and other considerations.

To remain effective, each of us must stay informed.   If we do not know the perspectives and beliefs of what we consider to be the opposition, we cannot effectively prepare for impacts from them.  Each of us should know what is happening in state legislatures, local schools and with library boards or local government councils.  We should write letters expressing our views to officials and attend meetings.   We should participate because we are free, and not limit our abilities to sustain our rights through censorship.

I exercise my rights to expression and share a steadfast belief that everyone should.  I welcome opposing views and opinions, because without them, I wouldn’t have anything about which to write.   If I disagree, I say so.  If I agree, I say so.   If there were nothing to agree or disagree with, the very basis for freedom would be extinct.

Without a doubt, everybody’s got a figurative rock to throw, because there are always, at least, two sides to every story.  We live in a society that protects our right to participate in that process.

The balance of this article is a series of links, information, and quotes regarding intellectual freedom and rights.  It has been my privilege to assemble them for  edification and enjoyment.

“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.”   - The Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on December 15, 1791. 

- UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION

-          FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION--SPEECH AND PRESS 

“Censorship reflects a society's lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime. Long ago those who wrote our First Amendment charted a different course. They believed a society can be truly strong only when it is truly free. In the realm of expression they put their faith, for better or for worse, in the enlightened choice of the people, free from the interference of a policeman's intrusive thumb or a judge's heavy hand. So it is that the Constitution protects coarse expression as well as refined, and vulgarity no less than elegance. A book worthless to me may convey something of value to my neighbor. In the free society to which our Constitution has committed us, it is for each to choose for himself.” — Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, dissenting Ginzberg v. United States, 383 U.S. 463 (1966)

"Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us."

--Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas

“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.”

— John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

“He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from opposition: for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself. ”— Thomas Paine, Dissertation On First Principles Of Government

 “The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.” — Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943)

“First Amendment freedoms are most in danger when the government seeks to control thought or to justify its laws for that impermissible end. The right to think is the beginning of freedom, and speech must be protected from the government because speech is the beginning of thought.”—Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Ashcroft V. Free Speech Coalition (00-795) 198 F.3d 1083, affirmed.

 “Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.”U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis (1856–1941), Whitney v. California, 274 U. S. 357 (1927)

“Almost all human beings have an infinite capacity for taking things for granted.” — Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World


Copyright 2003 by DS Gands, All Rights Reserved

DS Gands s a freelance writer living in North Texas.  The opinions in the articles by DS Gands are those of the author and are not intended to reflect the perspective or position of the publications or organizations that publish them.  If you would like to see this or other articles by D.S. Gands appear in your favorite publication, ask the editor to contact editor@ntxe-news.com regarding available reprint or syndication rights.