As Conservative political pundits bandy about the possibility that one of our country’s most precious freedoms, the freedom of speech, is now under attack due to an unfortunate mass murder that recently occurred in Arizona, I am brought to mind the words of John Kay, who wrote “you’re free to speak your mind, my friend, as long as you agree with me.” Of course, I am referring to the public debate over whether or not the shooter, Jared Loughner, the accused in the assassination of six people attending an informal meet-and-greet with Arizona Congresswoman Gabriella Giffords, had been influenced by political advertising which depicted images of violence aimed at Giffords and others of similar political beliefs. Whether or not Loughner was or was not influenced by such images will be the focus of debate, most likely in the judicial system, for many years to come. Now, ultra-conservatives would have us believe their spiel that restricting images of violence in political advertising is some sort of free speech violation aimed particularly at their political movement. While that argument does, in fact, hold some merit as further degradation of our political system continues its downward spiral, it also could, and I believe should, serve as a reminder to all that speech bandied about in the public forum is done so with the intention of influencing the hearer. Period. And as such, that speech must be chosen carefully and with much forethought. In everyday life, speech is what guides our daily routines. On the political front, politicos routinely denigrate and degrade the competition with outrageous and inaccurate commentary. As well, when these tactics are questioned, ultra-conservatives shout from the rooftops that those with opposing viewpoints are out to “engineer” some sort of ”perfected” society — an agenda pushed by conservatives for decades. From their own mouths, ultra-conservatives routinely tell us that if we don't believe as they do we are some sort of "Marxist" or "unpatriotic" and even worse. If those of the ultra-conservative belief thought for even one moment, they would come to the conclusion that this “perfected” people concept is what the United States is, and has always been about. No? We, as a society, begin training our youth from the moment of birth to believe this or that way. Further societal consciousness is brought to fruition through our educational system, our places of employment, our churches, and even out government offices, including the court system! The goal of this great nation has always been about one thing: the betterment of society as a whole, not that of one particular political belief or another. What the ultra-conservative movement fails to realize, I believe, is that “civil” dialog does not come as an attack of any sort on your particular belief. Nor does it come as an attack on your inalienable right to free speech. But, when free speech becomes fighting words, we do indeed have a problem. The “fighting words” doctrine, upheld for nearly 100 years in case after case heard in the US Supreme Court, holds that there are certain and well defined classes of speech: lewd and obscene, profane, the libelous, and the insulting. Further, the Supreme Court has defined the “fighting words” doctrine by clarifying it as “those that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of the exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest order and morality.” Can we ever get the ultra-conservatives to understand that as a nation, we must act as a united people; that hate-filled speech does have consequences; or that freedom of speech does not give them license to call for the overthrow of our government, or to “target” those with dissimilar beliefs? Sadly, I doubt much will change in our political climate — you’re free to speak your mind, my friend, as long as you agree with me.

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