Lindsey Graham on the First Amendment (I Think)

Does freedom of speech apply to Muslims?  To Christians?  Hindus?  Pagans?  Now about socialists?  Anarchists?  Flag-burners?  Are these stupid questions?  Apparently the principles involved are enough to confuse at least one U.S. Senator.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) does not get it.  I read the linked article three times to make sure I wasn’t the confused one.  Graham is champing at the bit to shut down somebody’s speech, or so it would seem.  He is in favor of a Constitutional Amendment banning burning the flag.  I hope many of you are as revolted as I am when I see someone burning the Stars and Stripes.  To me, it is a slap in the face to every soldier who has risked his/her life for the freedom exemplified by flag-burning.  My disgust, however, does not constitute the limits of someone else’s speech.

Graham is also itching to keep people from burning the Koran.  To be fair, he admits that you can’t really do that legally (because of that annoying First Amendment thing):

General Petraeus sent a statement out to all news organizations yesterday, urging our government to [condemn] Koran burning. Free speech probably allows that, but I don’t like that. I don’t like burning the flag under the idea of free speech. That bothers me; I have been one of the chief sponsors of legislation against burning the flag. I don’t like the idea that these people picket funerals of slain servicemen. If I had my way, that wouldn’t be free speech. So there are a lot of things under the guise of free speech that I think are harmful and hateful.

Note to Senator Graham: The First Amendment is not about what you like.  It is not about what I like.  Some speech is harmful and hateful from the perspective of some people.  Most all speech is offensive to someone, somewhere.  Some speech, like picketing slain servicemen’s funerals, is so disgusting as to stagger your and my imagination.  Likewise, some of our speech is so disgusting as to stagger others’ imaginations.  Homosexuality?  Out in the open?  Literature available in stores?  I should hope that you would not take the view that such viewpoints should be banned.  Many do.  Why should our viewpoint be the only one permitted?

The First Amendment does something for us as individuals that nothing else can.  It enables us to seek our own counsel as to what to say and how to say it.  It prohibits government from silencing us, even for what appears to be good cause.  It is not an endorsement of content, but a guarantor of the the act of speaking.  You are a U.S. Senator.  It does not behoove you to sound confused over something so simple.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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