Last Sunday, in Alexandria, Virginia, the closing hymn at the Baptist church I attended with my daughter made a powerful point. “I promise my words will not harm you,” the choir and congregation sung. “I promise my words will do you no harm.”
There’s a huge push right now to value free speech above the words we use, to honor what some feel is a constitutional right that words have to inflict pain. But mainly, the battle over free speech is thought to be a side show, secondary and insignificant, overshadowed by the budget and program fights over safety net services, and by the distractions over education in the states, where unprecedented school closings and new standards, some which consider race, point to a looming fall crisis. Add reproductive rights for women, healthcare, food safety, global conflicts, and free speech seems an abstract issue, but it’s not.
Each of the issues of politics, and every political decision, is a transaction of speech. From the myth that ambulatory centers and government-mandated vaginal probes benefit women’s health, to the insults and shame Texas’ Rick Perry and others have used to silence and denigrate women, to the 30-second commercials pandering to the worst fears of the uninformed about health care, to the Supreme Court’s rulings on voting rights and same sex marriage benefits, to the Zimmerman trial about the shooting death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, every issue of politics and justice engages and touches free speech.
Free speech isn’t a stand-alone right like property ownership. It is a transactional right; one at the center of every decision and law. Through free speech, we put on display our values and actions, our personalities and beliefs, our best logic, our anger and comfort and intent.
I wish Maury Povich began his show with the Alfred Street Baptist Church anthem, “My words will do you no harm.” But more, I wish political leaders took the same pledge. Free speech is more central to democracy than taxes. In fact, the “no tax” pledge is an example of the effectiveness of speech!
But that pledge, and many others, broke the edict of no harm. Routinely, the moral imperative of “do no harm,” at the center of peace and prosperity, is ignored for greed and political gain. Continue reading Speak Out About Free Speech