“With great power comes great responsibility”. This often – remembered quote, which originated from the Spiderman character “Uncle Ben” pretty much, describes how power can be used to bring about good just as much as it can be mustered to bring about harm. We often don’t realise that while rights are there to be exercised to their full extent, they also have their limitations. Freedom and liberty are still at one with one another, but freedom is not absolute and is not a “you – can –do – whatever- you – want” permission slip. While laws give us the rights which we are entitled to enjoy, they also give us the obligations which we must uphold. One of the many rights which so often come up in discussions and debates, or events relating in one or another to it, is the right to free speech.
The right to freedom of speech in its essence is the right for the individual to express his/her opinions and ideas freely, without having to fear encountering any form of retaliation, censorship and in a completely un-restrained manner. One can either agree or disagree with one’s opinion on any issue, and freedom of speech guarantees that plurality where various political ideologies and views become entangled with one another, as people from across the political spectrum express their beliefs. Just as much as some opinions please you and may be of comfort to you because you agree with them, others may be less so, since they might seem abhorrent, deplorable and shocking to you, with you viewing their only intention being to offend and insult. This is an area where freedom of speech crosses over into hate speech, which is a form of speech utilised to attack a person or a group upon a basis of their race , religion , gender ,sexual orientation , disability etc . One of the most common manifestations of hate speech is frequently seem in the form of racism, which is discrimination based on one’s race by believing that one race is superior to the other.
Racism is encountered and experienced in many ways, shapes and forms within our society, and has only recently been exhibited yet again in the United States of America, in a particular incident involving comedian and actress, Roseanne Barr. On the 29th of May 2018 , Barr posted a racist tweet addressed to former Senior Advisor to former U.S. President Barack Obama, Valerie Jarrett ,which read: “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj”. Despite being initially defensive amidst an outburst of criticism and backlash against her, Barr later deleted her tweet and posted an apology. Nevertheless, the U.S. TV network ABC fired Barr and cancelled the reboot of her trademark show “Roseanne”. Immediately after news broke on Barr’s firing from ABC, an intense national discussion immediately issued, with many voicing their support for ABC’s decision to fire Barr based on moral grounds due to Barr’s racist comment, while others disagreed with the decision , saying that it violated freedom of speech and was politically intolerant given Barr’s conservative views, while also saying that the incident displayed the double standards towards conservative tv personalities as opposed to liberal figures going un-punished for their controversial comments.
Not much time passed until the saga surrounding Barr’s firing turned into a battleground for Republicans and Democrats to wage war with one another about what freedom of speech really is and about where a line can be drawn between it being exercised reasonably as opposed to it being abused haphazardly. People were quick to compare the incident to the American National Football League (NFL) instructing its players only a few days before to stand for national anthem and banned them from kneeling, which some American football players have been doing ever since football quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem in 2016, to protest against racial injustice in the U.S, with critics calling the move unpatriotic and disrespectful. The saga became two sides of one coin, since both ABC and the NFL are private corporations free from government interference, and even more due to the fact the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of speech from government censorship, and from censorship from the private sector.
These events undoubtedly showed how freedom of speech is still a divisive issue, with its meaning being left up to interpretation. Free speech above all is an objective right, and should in no way be subjective, no matter what your opinion may be. It should be up to oneself as to how they exercise their right to freedom of speech with no legal restraints, while not neglecting its moral limitations so as not to abuse it, but utilise it accordingly. While one must keep in mind that there may be those who dislike their opinion or disagree with it, one still has the right to express their opinion and shouldn’t feel uncomfortable to do so, in what ought to be a completely free and open society.
Written by : Jacob Callus