No Free Speech!

I don’t believe in free speech! No I am NOT in favor of censorship – but that I know speech has a price – it has consequences. What we say does affect others, can set a tone and influence the actions of another.  The Pima county sheriff in Arizona linked the recent attack on Congresswoman Giffords to the intensely negative political climate fueled buy the partisan talk shows. I have no doubts.

I have heard the vitriol spewed by Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh and several lesser known Liberal talk show hosts who list their programs as entertainment. What bothers me most is not that they believe differently from me – though they do.  It is that they say anyone who does not believe as they do is unpatriotic, un-American,  stupid, or a stooge of some sort of nefarious world changing conspiracy and other such balderdash. Since the Newt Gingrich led success of the Republican Party there has been a significant change in political conversation. It is no longer measured and thoughtful, It has become raised voices and sound bites. Truth is no longer primary – effect is the goal. And truth often become a casualty.

One example reported in the newspaper this morning is an example. Giffords opponent in the last election accused her of “betraying” her district, casting her as a traitor. Sarah Palin’s website prior to the election listed various congressional districts to be won and a graphic element pictured them in the cross hairs of a rifle sight. The Arizona district was one of them.  I am not saying that the Arizona shooter saw it or was in any way directly influenced by Palin’s website ot the opponent.  But I believe that website and countless other sites, along with speeches, interviews, talk shows, and conversations has reset the political system so it is now based on creating and portraying the other as adversaries and enemies.  The OTHER is not someone with whom you share mre than you differ, but is one to be defeated and disgraced. It is no longer seen as good politics to work across party lines to accomplish the work of governance. The optimal strategy is to deny the opposition any progress so we can win the next election.

And this sort of national speech has ramifications in the local community. So many speak in differing ways about the incivility that is being lived in local communities. Local political parties are following the national trends – the rhetoric is heated and the accomplishments are fewer. We see legislative bodies polarized and hiding behind partisan ideologies rather than working to resolve issues even as the need for cooperation and creativity increase to cope with local, regional and national issues.

While we have the constitutional right to speak freely in the U.S. there is no free speech for any of us. With speech come responsibility for what we create with it. Do we intentionally try to create community or an adversary? Do we build up or tear down? In Arizona we have seen the true cost of the seeds we as a nation have planted over the past few decades. How many are willing to do the extremely hard work of changing the tenor of our  conversation – for the sake of the nation’s soul?


About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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