The First Amendment to the Constitution says, “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 First Amendment does not say that any person has a right to say any vile thing that occurs to her about another person or bully a fellow citizen whenever one wishes to do so.
Last week Milo Yiannopoulos was not allowed to finish a speech at UC Berkeley and much ado has been made about that fact. Given some of Yiannopoulos’ past behavior, I am wondering why he was invited in the first place. A few weeks prior to his visit to Berkeley, he spoke at the University of Wisconsin. During his speech he flashed a picture of a trans student upon the screen and maligned the student in a very disrespectful manner. He called the student by name in the process of his presentation.
Yiannopoulos is a Steve Bannon protege, and if you have been paying close attention you know that Bannon is a on a crusade to move us from what he calls “political correctness” to his indefensible alt-right position. Of course this is simply the Ku Klux Klan mentality in a business suit. So when a person decides to claim their First Amendment right to free speech and then sets about to injure another person, it is time for all of us to protest loudly.
Clearly, democracy is a tricky business. Most of us are willing to courageously stand in our defense of the right for folks to have free speech. But that stand cannot be mindlessly held while our sisters and brothers are being injured by those who do not really care about freedom.
It appears that the founding men were trying to make it clear that the citizens could engage in dissent when it involved grievances that they had against the government. It is important to read the entire passage to get a sense that it goes far beyond any one person’s right to engage in verbally vile and abusive behavior.
One of the places where this type of incivility and violence is being seen is on social media. Of course there was no way to have imagined what the 21st century would bring when that First Amendment was penned. It is time for us to take a few deep breaths and reflect upon what kind of nation we plan to become. We are a nation of immigrants and former slaves and that fact is not going to change. We have to become recommitted to the idea of living here together. Another violent civil war in this land would be quite unfortunate, but the present path seems to be leading us too rapidly in that direction.
White supremacy is over. It is unacceptable to use the Constitution as a weapon in the attempt to reassert it. Even though the Ku Klux Klan is in the White House at the present moment this is not the time to allow any and all manner of vile speech and behavior in the name of freedom. Actually, the desire for this to be the case seems to apply only to white men because we are seeing an effort to thwart the behavior of people of color and others who are protesting. Along with this is a massive effort to thwart the press.
I will never accept that decent, sane, freedom loving people are outnumbered by the Klan and others who want to maintain white male supremacy in this country. I am holding to the notion that there will be courageous resistors in the 21st century, as there have been throughout our history, who will not stand for oppression and suppression of anyone. I will resist. Will you?
This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.