Monday, March 24, 2008

Scorpions in the Constitutional Bottle: Uncivil Speech, Civil Society

I shamelessly rip-off today's questions from the description of an American studies course at Georgetown:
Tensions exist between the First Amendment guarantee of free speech and the goal articulated by the Framers in the Preamble of The Constitution of establishing a society that would “insure domestic Tranquility and promote the general Welfare.” What happens when these goals collide? What is permissible under the constitutional protection of free speech? In pushing the free speech envelope, how far is too far? When is speech so uncivil that domestic tranquility takes precedence? What is lost and what is gained as a society in resolving these tensions?

8 comments:

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

This topic makes me feel as though I just stepped into the cow lot. No matter which way I turn I get something on my boots.

Pat Jenkins said...

your questions expose the farce with the political correctness movement erd!!!.... as with all your topics, which i am happy with your thinking, you need a central body for deciding a true path. who would you give that responsibility to?

E. R. Dunhill said...

Chris,
I'm glad to have led you into a minefield. Your comment gives me an idea for a future post completely unrelated to what I've written here. Thanks.

E. R. Dunhill said...

PJ,
I think many (most?) political debates are somewhat farcical. Could you elaborate on how you see political correctness relating to free speech and civil society?

Pat Jenkins said...

erd is not its enforcement, political correctness, dependent on personal offense. are we then to say some have the right of authority over others to limit anything that may be sad. so if all claim equality, which i am MORE than eager to grant, no one has rights over anothers tongue. so your questions of who gets to decide the "ways" of man has application to his speech!!!

E. R. Dunhill said...

PJ,
I agree that the expectation that others should be politically correct is ultimately based on the concern that someone may otherwise take offense. I disagree that this is a limitation on free speech, though. If a private citizen says something offensive, he's (to a point) exercising his right to free speech. If his neighbor tells him to put a sock in it or suggests that he is unenlightened for saying such things, she is likewise enjoying the benefit of free speech. The First Amendment bars the government from infringing upon the free speech (and other related rights) of the people. The people, on the other hand, have fairly broad latitude in which to be offensive and argue with one another.
Where I see a potential collision between free speech and civil society are areas like government restrictions on advertising goods like alcohol and cigarettes, or laws that might prevent violent criminals from profiting from writing about their crimes. Or, should the government have the right to ban publications that describe how to commit crimes?

Pat Jenkins said...

so you are concerned with government intrusion erd? huh... if government is supposed to be for the people, therefore submissive to the masses, they walk a thin line of stepping over those bounds when limiting advertising. within those obligations of the government it is also the duty to protect citizens. so is it not mandatory they perform that task by limiting criminal offenders speech? i would have to say YES!!!

Jessica G said...

Very good question..."what is permissible under the constitutional protection of free speech?"

In Cincinnati, the federal government protects the KKK who, every Christmas, put a cross on Fountain Square. They protect the nutjobs who protest American solider's funerals, carrying signs saying "We're glad you're dead." I would actually much rather read a book about true crime, than read or see the dribble I mentioned before.

The framers of the constitution also allowed enslaved blacks count as 3/5's of a person. When it was written, it was only written to protect the best interests of white men...Not sure how that fits in...but i'm sure it does somewhere. ;)