Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Valuing Your Right to Free Speech

The reporting of the going-ons over in London during the 2012 Summer Olympics gives us all reason to appreciate our Constitutional Rights even more.  A young british man apparently took his countryman's performance a little more seriously than most.  Furious that British diving-darling Tom Daley was unable to medal in synchronised platform diving, the young man hopped on his twitter account and tweeted to Daley that he had let down his deceased father by not getting a medal.  In further response to other tweeters who rose to Daley's defense, the 17 year old lashed out saying he has a gun to hunt birds and was "going to shoot theirs too."

Setting aside the startling fact that anyone cares that much about male synchronised diving, there is no question that the tweets were in bad taste.  However, what highlights how different we in the United States are from our "democratic" brethren across the pond is the fact that the tweet-happy diving fan was arrested for his post.  In Britain, they have a law against 'indecent' or 'grossly offensive' communications that cause distress or anxiety in their recipients.  

That is the state of freedom in Great Britain?  One would have a hard time arguing that his tweets were truly threatening or scary considering the only statement made directly to Daley's account was about his late father.  Moreover, this is not even direct communication.  He did not call Daley's personal number, text his personal phone or email his personal email.  He posted a comment on a webfeed that exists for open communication amongst all who subscribe to it.  Daley invites people to follow him by not setting his account to private.  It seems clear that the UK would apply this law as easily to a facebook post or any other social media.

Consider two things from this.  First, if you are going to rant about the British to one of their subjects on Facebook, Twitter, Google + or Linkedin, consider giving the country and its territories a wide berth, lest they have a warrant out for your arrest because you hurt their feelings.  Second, be glad you live in America and remember to value your free speech rights.

It is easy, and quite fair, to dismiss the notion that any law like this would pass in Congress or any of our state legislatures.  And that is absolutely true...today.  If you look around at our efforts to be nicer to our fellow man, to try to stop bullying and to reduce violence, you should remain aware of the risks some steps pose to our Constitutional Rights.

Some would say the inroads have been made already with the general acceptance of political correctness in our society today.  But one does not have to look farther than the real life impact of the Patriot Act and TSA regulations to see what happens when we allow our legitimate concern to protect on one hand to limit our freedom on the other.

So before you join a rally to push your local government to ban Chick-fil-a or to bar Louis Farrakhan from being able to give a speech, consider the effect that can have on your free speech.  Are you really ready to have the government monitor your spoken word?  Be it verbal, written, electronic or otherwise, those expressions should remain protected.

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