My great-grandmother abused the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on a regular basis. She threw freedom of speech around as if it were a rag doll. Except in her case, she wasn't likely to get a few million people killed, only to offend and humiliate anyone who happened to be within earshot.
In my family, we never thought about the constitutionality of her of her blatant outpourings; we merely tried to avoid being in her presence as often as possible.
After all the controversy over the Florida minister's threat of burning Korans, I gave a lot of thought to the manner in which some Americans use their freedoms. This, of course, is after they have all been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court. I'm not sure how much the interpretations agree with the Founding Father's original intent, but it's what we're stuck with.
Americans do love to talk about their freedoms They love to brag about them all over the world. One would think that as precious as our freedoms are, there would be a lot more talk about using them responsibly. I'm not sure, for example, that such matters are taught in schools. People knowledgeable about our education system tell me that if the subject is not on the state's MAP test (whatever that is) it's not taught. That's why many schools do not have physical education and have a lot of fat kids. Like the American people, though, we will leave that subject for a moment.
It does seem though that the higher our illiteracy rate rises, the more we hear about the First and Second amendments. It wouldn't surprise me if in the next few years somebody doesn't come up with the assertion that the freedom of expression gives him the right to shoot his gun at will. I don't even want to imagine how that could be interpreted.
Sometimes, it seems to me we are hell-bent on destroying our democracy as well as ourselves. Why else would some people never miss a gun show and stockpile all of these automatic weapons? Either they are expecting a bumper crop of wild game or that housebreaking will become a bigger boost to the economy. Now that we have been advised by a national security group that federal officials do not act as quickly on homegrown terrorist threats as they do on foreign terrorist threats, I guess we just have to trust that these gun buyers are all just people who are fond of guns.
A fast read through any daily newspaper can let us know all the many and varied ways individuals use their freedoms. How many people attempt to drive through running water to cross bridges after being warned that it's dangerous? How many others go a step further and while overseas wander into hostile countries? The fact that it takes a lot of people and sometimes a lot of money for these rescue operations is given no thought or consideration. But these people are free, so there's no stopping them. We just have to hope that millions don't decide to do the same thing at the same time.
Certain political parties and many others think that less government is better. Certainly it's better than being locked in cages, but they would have to prove to me that it's better than having reasonable regulations that reduce the amount of pain, suffering, time and expense that often has to be put forward by some on behalf of others.
The problem with unregulated freedom is that while some can be trusted to use it responsibly, we see thousands of instances everyday of individuals abusing it. I'm glad my great-grandmother demonstrated so many relatively harmless infractions common in family communications. It taught me the importance of guarding my tongue to see that I didn't fall into the bad habit of speaking intolerantly and creating offense. It's amazing how many children never learn that. These children grow up taking their freedoms for granted; that's why they wind up so often in juvenile detention centers and later on in prisons.
I really wish we had more civics classes to teach us how to use our freedoms wisely. The idea of using one's freedom to burn any books somehow seems incongruous to me. It's hard to tell some days if we are evolving are devolving in the area of human interaction. It's hard to imagine what kind of behavior we would see if we had fewer laws.
Maybe if we were told every morning when we wake up that our freedoms are being bought and paid for everyday at a heavy price, do you think we might restrain ourselves? Frankly, I doubt it. It's the First Amendment, right?
You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.