August 2, 2006

Free Speech: The Right of Foot-in-Mouth

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on Februar...
speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 12, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We Americans are proud of the freedom of speech afforded to us by our Constitution. Both ends of the political spectrum agree that free speech is important. I don't imagine you would find much disagreement on this issue among atheists and Christians. Of course, you would discover many differences on one's views around the limits of free speech.

The political left attempts to suppress speech that offends their politically correct sensibilities, focusing on racism, sexism, and other forms of perceived intolerance. They believe that our freedom of speech is tied to a responsibility to embrace multiculturalism, respect human diversity, and foster unity. Thus, they are appalled by Ann Coulter's homophobia, Mel Gibson's anti-Semitism, or Massachussetts Gov. Mitt Romney's racism.

Not to be outdone, the political right seeks to suppress all they consider immoral, emphasizing human sexuality, blasphemy, and other perceived vices. They are guided by ancient religious doctrine, and despite questionable applicability to today's world, they have no qualms about using it to support their views of morality. They encourage censorship, want to stop people from speaking out against the actions of their politicians, and prevent their children from learning about science, preferring to create pseudoscience which supports their religious beliefs. The encourage criticism of religion, as long as it is not their own.

Underlying both of these positions appears to be the perception that one has a right not to be offended. In this way, the left's opposition to racism starts to sound quite similar to the right's opposition to sex on TV. I'm not trying to gloss over the differences or suggest that the two approaches are equivalent, but I am arguing that a perceived right not to be offended is involved with both.

I do not believe in any sort of right not to be offended. Nobody has this right, including me. I have no right not to be offended. I have no right not to have my feelings hurt. I have no right not to be criticized.

So what are we to do when we are confronted with views we don't like? Change the channel, walk away, speak out in protest, vote, etc. Ann Coulter has the right to put her foot in her mouth; I have the right to hope she chokes on it.