How many ways can one person explain what should be a simple concept? It seems as though no matter how many times people define freedom, others seem to fail to grasp the concept. Freedom is a God-given, government-enforced social construct. What that means is that people have defined the freedoms as expressed in the Bible, and applied these freedoms to society contingent upon social agreement. Different societies have different understandings on what freedoms are applied based upon cultural and religious/moral imperatives. Even atheists believe in freedom; they just omit the God-given part—which may explain why we continue to struggle with the concept.
The freedom that seems to be the most confusing is the freedom of speech. People make statements that they intended to have a specific meaning. Others hear these statements and take a different meaning. Sometimes this misunderstanding results in someone taking offense to the aforementioned statement. What is the source of the offense? Was it the hearing or the uttering of the statement? This is an important distinction, because if the offense was generated at the uttering, that is to say that the person making the statement did so with full knowledge that the statement would or even could conceivably cause offence, then the statement maker is culpable in the offense. If, however, the person making the statement meant no offense, nor could have anticipated the statement would be taken as an offense, then the problem is not with the statement maker, but with the receiver, who assigned the offense to the statement.
Now, that may sound convoluted, but look at it this way: If I say that I’m fat and I need to lose weight, I do not say that with the intention of offending anyone. Yet if someone hears that and assumes I meant that everyone who is overweight needs to lose weight and they put themselves into that category, and then take offense thinking I’m calling them fat, that is not my fault. I will not apologize for their offense because I am not the source of their offense. They are.
If I know that someone considers themselves fat and are very sensitive about it, common decency dictates that I not joke about it in front of them. But if I have no idea that they have this insecurity, how is it my fault if they get their feelings hurt? Is it unprofessional to call myself fat just because someone else is overly sensitive to their own weight? Are they right to complain to company about it?
Is it right that people have to watch what they say so that no one could even possibly draw offense from it? It would be nice if we could sue for our first amendment rights to get this individual to quit complaining and to have our jobs protected. Unfortunately, it does not work that way.
The first amendment was written to protect Americans (pay attention to that) from reprisals from the government for speaking out against the government. Other countries (including Great Britain) have historically put political dissidents (those who speak out against the government) in jail, sometimes for life, to punish them for their speech. The founding fathers wanted to ensure that Americans (again, this is an important distinction) are protected from the American government for speaking out against the government. There is no provision in the first amendment for protection for saying intentionally offensive things to other citizens. If you call someone fat, and they get you fired for it, the first amendment does not apply. It is morally wrong, but it is not a first amendment issue.
Some people are more sensitive than others, but some are downright crazy about it. Islam has decreed that it is a sin to make any representation of Mohammad, either drawing or painting. This has been the case from the onset of their faith. It does not matter that someone from outside their faith does not understand the reasoning behind this restriction; it is a restriction that is foundational to their religion. The more radical members of that religion have already demonstrated a willingness to kill those who violate the tenets of Koran. So does it make sense to openly defy their faith by intentionally violating this restriction?
You call someone fat. That someone then holds a gun to your head and says “Go ahead, call me fat one more time.” Are you going to call them fat? I doubt it. I don’t think you can even make a claim that your free speech is being restricted. This is common sense. You know, without a shadow of a doubt, that to call that gunman fat is going to offend him and result in a negative outcome for you. Your freedom is in your choice of what you do at that point. If you choose to exercise the freedom to say whatever you wish to say, then you have to be willing to take the consequences of that action. You call the gunman fat. He shoots you. He goes to jail, you go to the morgue. You were not arrested. You have successfully exercised your freedom. Congratulations.
The Isis attacks in Texas at the drawing contest illustrate this point in glorious detail. Some liberal media group thought it would be a good thing to intentionally offend Muslims by inviting artists from around the world to a group “screw Islam” party, wherein they would all try to come up with the funniest and (probably) the most insulting cartoon of Mohammad. This is calling the gunman fat. Can we be surprised when he shoots?
This is not at all to suggest that the attack was justified. No sane person would say that it is ok to commit mass murder over a cartoon. Radical Islam has committed acts of terrorism too numerous to even mention, and it is never justified, never understandable, and never ok.
The reality of radical Islam’s violent tendencies makes the decision to have this contest even more idiotic. Who would have thought that doing so would NOT have invited an attack of some kind? You don’t poke a lion with a stick, you don’t throw stones at a beehive and you don’t play chicken with a locomotive. Some things shouldn’t need to be tested to be believed.
The ability to say anything to anyone anywhere at any time is not and never has been a protection afforded by the constitution. It is and has always been an issue of social interaction governed by the mores of polite society. If you say the wrong thing, you deal with the consequences, no matter how unfair it may seem.
Criticize the president, criticize the legislature, criticize the courts. Do it verbally, write about it, post it online. The government cannot take action against you. But remember, our first amendment rights do not apply to entities outside the US government. Nor do they protect us from the repercussions from other people. The amendment only protects American citizens from the American government. That is all.