I just learned something that created a state of shock and awe within my being. No, I was not contemplating the amazing military might of the Socialist Democracy of Amerika's fighting forces. Nor was I reading about the amazing physical abilities of the Welsh National Soccer Team. No, I just learned that a law has been proposed for the State of Colorado that would create a new commission. Now creating a new commission is not extraordinary. The bureaucratic machine is constantly growing. It is what this commission is commissioned to do that sent me into my hyperbolic state of being, if there is such a thing. The new commission would exist for the purpose of reviewing and approving the names of all government school mascots within the depressing State of Colorado.
Apparently some nanny-state legislators down at the state house have decided that it is possible that someone somewhere might get their feelings hurt if they are some way related to a mascot title. To hype up the proposed new law a group of Indians, feather not dot, gathered on the steps of the capitol building in support of the new law. One Indian squaw was seen writing across the face of her child the sentence, "I am not a mascot." How cute, I thought to myself. Another little brave grabbed a microphone and, between hysterical sobs, told the story of how bad he feels about himself all the time because some school on the eastern plains has a mascot called the "Savages." This new law will solve the terrible problem of little Indians feeling bad about themselves, or so the proponents of the law believe.
I was more interested in the law from the perspective of free speech. The Third Amendment to the Constitution of the United States says, "Congress shall make no law
respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free
exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;
or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the
Government for a redress of grievances." Since the Bill of Rights is supposed to apply to all the citizens of the SDA, it should apply to the citizens of Colorado as well. If that is true then it necessarily follows that the Colorado legislature shall "make no law abridging the freedom of speech." And yet when I read my newspaper I am informed that precisely the opposite is taking place. What is going on here?
A lot of very knowledgeable people like to say that the right to free speech is not absolute. Although I will freely admit that I am considerably dumber than all of those scholars, I still have to say that they are wrong. The right to free speech is absolute. I can say whatever I want, whenever I want, wherever I want and there is nothing you or anyone else can do about it. Now the simple fact that I have free speech does not mean that I am not morally culpable for the things that I say. This is where all those smart people get confused. Because it is possible to say things that will incur moral guilt on my part they come to believe that I am not free to say those things. When they argue that way they are confusing my right with the consequences of exercising that right. Those two things should never be confused.
The standard example of speech that is not free is the case of a person in a crowded theater standing up and yelling "fire" at the top of his lungs. I am routinely informed that yelling "fire" in a crowded theater is illegal and an example of a type of speech that is not free. That, however, is simply not true. Think about it for a moment. Why is it alleged that yelling "fire" in a crowded theater is illegal? Is it not because it carries the potential to do physical harm to the patrons of the theater if they panic and trample one another on their way to the exits? But the sin, or the tort if you wish, that has taken place here is the sin of lying about the conditions in the theater. If I yell "fire" in a theater in which there is a fire I have committed no injustice. Furthermore, if I yell "fire" in a theater in which there are only three other patrons and they can clearly see that I am a maniac, I have committed no sin against them. It is bad manners to yell during the screening of a movie but it is hard to see how I have committed a crime. No, the reason yelling "fire" in a crowded theater, however "crowded" is defined, is based upon the fact that someone is harmed as a result of the lie that I told. The prohibition is therefore against lying, not against the speech itself.
The same is true for all examples of what are allegedly cases where free speech is not permitted. All actual criminal examples of the exercise of the right of free speech do not have anything to do with the speech itself but, rather, they have everything to do with the consequences of that speech. If I engage in a concerted program of libel and slander of your reputation you are free to press charges against me for libel and slander. I was free to say what I wanted and you are free to sue me if you believe what I said caused you material or physical harm. If you can prove your case you will be awarded a sum of my money.
The most important distinction to be made in the matter of free speech is that a tort, sin or crime is only committed if the exercise of free speech does harm of a financial or physical nature. Although it often does, the law should not recognize "emotional damages." The only damages that count are those that can be quantified. I know when I yell "fire" in a crowded theater and you are killed in the stampede that happens as a result of my declaration that I should be found guilty of murder and executed. But what do I know if I yell "you are a cheap Scotsman" in that same theater? How am I to know if my words will be perceived by the Scots in the audience as sweet or harmful? Some Scots would be pleased to be described as being cheap. Others might take offense. How can I possibly know in advance? The inability to know or predict people's emotional reactions to the thousands of things we all do and say everyday is the precise reason why the law should not recognize a tort for the emotional impact of what we say. And that, of course, was why the founding fathers had the foresight to establish the Third Amendment to the Constitution.
Despite what the government tries to tell us today, sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. That old saying we all learned as children is true. You can call me anything you want and the words coming out of your mouth as you exercise free speech will never do me harm. Go ahead. Call me a stupid Welshman. Call me a cheating, lying, thieving, disgusting, foul-smelling, ugly Welshman. All you will get back from me is a smile and a nod of the head acknowledging that most of what you just said is true. Please, please name your school mascot after the Welsh. I would suggest the Drunken Welshmen, the Mad Welshmen and, if you want to be historically accurate, the Church-going Welshmen. And guess what? Not a single Welshmen will be offended....well.....except for Ian.....he is offended by everything and we long ago learned to ignore him.
The point is that adults in this sad country used to recognize that the speech emanating from the mouth of another person told us far more about that person than it told us about ourselves, even when that person is talking about us. When a person chose to swear we knew that he was ignorant, stupid and seeking attention for himself. When a person chose to use words that had the potential to inflame the sensibilities of others we knew he was nothing more than a attention hog and a me-monster. We would treat him exactly the opposite of what he wanted. We would ignore him. Civilized people developed ways to deal with each other and that applied to the free speech that came out of our mouths. Today all of that has changed. Everyone is a victim of what someone else said. Everyone has the emotional constitution of a child, immediately breaking into uncontrollable sobs the moment someone says something to them they perceive to be uncomplimentary. Get over it. Grow up. What a bunch of sissies we have become.