Freedom Requires Responsibility and Morality
Hat tip James Taranto, "Students protest slurs in N.C. State’s Free Expression Tunnel". The opening paragraph:
Raleigh, N.C. — Students have vowed to protest or block North Carolina State University’s Free Expression Tunnel until the university’s chancellor gives guarantees that no hate speech will be allowed there.
The easy snark would be to laugh at students wanting free speech who then go out and protest free speech. But this brings up the necessity of responsibility and morality in our daily lives in order to properly enjoy those freedoms we have.
There are limits on free speech, of course. When said speech could present a danger to people (and moreso to particular people like the President), it does have limits, and those limits are given the force of law. The quintessential example is yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater when there isn’t one, and causing a stampede that could hurt or kill people. As a society, we’ve also decided that the psychological issues related to pornography are not something children are ready to deal with, so we have limits there as well.
What these students, and many liberal folks, want to do, then, is elevate hurt feelings to the same level as psychological or physical harm and death as reasons to legislate against certain speech. This severely degrades the adjective "free". People get hurt feelings all the time. This doesn’t mean we should be legislating against all those free expressions.
But my main point is this; why would someone yell "Fire!" in a crowded, non-burning theater? I think I can get pretty much unanimous agreement that this would come from a lack of ethics & morals and a general lack of responsibility towards one’s fellow man. Irrespective of which moral code you live by, I would imagine that someone living up perfectly to those morals would not do such a thing, and if we all lived up to those morals perfectly, there would be, indeed, no need for such a law.
So the fact that some people don’t live up to these morals, even common ones most Americans share, means that we’ll have irresponsible and immoral speech out there. And the more moral the people are, the less of it we’d have. This is why morality is inseparably tied up with government. Good laws are not just good policy; they are (or ought to be) good morals and ethics. John Adams noted that the foundation of our laws was written with this in mind:
Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
Freedom requires a measure of responsibility and morality to be exercised properly.
And I would note, along with Adams, that morality and religion are essentially inseparable. Where atheism is the state "religion" (e.g. communist countries, for example), freedom is scarce. Those here in the Western world who push for a shared ethic based solely on human thoughts and understanding would do well to look at history for a list of bad examples. Humanity, with no outside influence or acknowledgement of something higher than itself, tends to descend to the occasion rather than rise to it.
Keep the faith.
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