“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.”
Ah the First Amendment. 220 years ago, when ¾ of the states ratified the Bill of Rights as Constitutional Amendments, do you think they ever envisioned Twitter, Facebook, Bloggers and message boards? Do you think they ever imagined that there would be a plethora of “unnamed sources” that would be driving our media? That the lives of private citizens would be invaded by paparazzi, cell phones and digital cameras? Do you think it ever crossed their minds that people would actually picket the funerals of fallen soldiers and innocent children to further their hate filled agendas?
As our ability to communicate has increased via the internet, our level of civility as a society has decreased exponentially. One merely has to visit online articles and read the comments – no subject is off limits, the comments will be taken over by people posting the most hateful and hurtful things under the guise of anonymity and all in the name of free speech. And heaven forbid anyone offer a differing opinion, or point out the flaws in their thought process. They will be jumped all over – those same people taking away THEIR right to freedom of speech. The sad reality is there are actually people sitting in their homes, day after day, searching out articles merely to call someone a name, to post a rumor, to belittle another human being or to ridicule those who are hurt, in mourning or in emotional turmoil. Bigotry and hatred are as old as time, but with the advent of the internet it seems more prevalent. It has seeped into every crevice of our society. What has happened to us?
Is there a way out of this downward spiral? As we experience societal changes, should our elected officials periodically review our First Amendment rights and alter them to keep up with these changes? Is there a way for them to do so and keep the original intent of the First Amendment intact? Or is this a societal issue? Do “we” need to all put our collective foot down and say enough is enough? Will the change only occur when the voices of many are raised in outrage?
With these rights come certain responsibilities. Should we be holding accountable those who choose to demean, to hate, to incite? Does one individual’s right to free speech circumvent the rights of others to live their lives free from fear, with dignity and a certain semblance of privacy?
I wish I knew the answers.