It’s Time to Stop Abusing the First Amendment

People hide behind it to spew hate and vulgarity. By all means, speak your mind, just do it with civility.


Rock and roll isn’t going to be the downfall of our society, the likes of Merrill Kidd, Rush Limbaugh, and Republican candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

I’m all for free speech, but I am sick and tired of people abusing the privilege that the First Amendment affords us. We’ve had three great examples of this recently.

First, we have the case of a member of the Manchester Board of Education, Merrill Kidd, sending another board member outrageous, rude and threatening emails. Here I am working with the school systems to educate children that this sort of behavior is completely unacceptable and we end up with elected officials role modeling the exact opposite of what we’re trying to promote. Are you serious?

Next we have Rush Limbaugh and his tirade against Sandra Fluke. Limbaugh is little more than a “shock jock,” and like most shock jocks, he has to keep upping the ante to keep his ratings up — which is, of course, his real agenda. At some point, these shock jocks end up going overboard and society finally steps in to slap them on the wrist. With Limbaugh, I think it’s too little, too late. But these guys tend to get away with it because they hide behind “free speech” to spew their hate and intolerance in the guise of legitimate commentary.

And finally, we have the sophomoric rhetoric of the Republican candidates. The trash talking of Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich is embarrassing to say the least. Are these guys really the best we can come up with? Are we OK with these guys stooping to this level all in the name of the all important sound bite? Is this the behavior we really want as representative of the United States?

What message are we sending out to our youth, and the entire society for that matter, when we accept through complacency rude, hateful and egregious behavior from adults in positions of power, whether they are elected officials, talk show hosts or presidential candidates?

As I said earlier, I do a lot of work in the school systems trying to stop bullying in all its forms. I have said all along that we need to take the focus off “bullying” specifically and make it more about developing a culture of respect, tolerance and good character. Bullying tends to disappear in a positive and empowering environment. Fortunately, the “anti-bullying movement” has started to make the much needed switch to the “civility movement.”

When I worked in corporate America and had many employees, they knew never to bring me a problem without a few possible solutions to go along with it. It serves no one to simply focus on the problem, progress is to be found in the solution. So here are a few ideas...

Merrill Kidd: There have been those who feel removing her from the Manchester school board is a bit excessive. I disagree. We need to make an example every time this type of behavior rears its ugly head. It’s time for our society to take a stand against incivility. What do you do with a child who demonstrates that they can’t play well with other children? You remove them and don’t allow them to play with other children until they demonstrate that they can "play nice." The mere fact that Ms. Kidd won’t step down from her elected office demonstrates that she doesn’t see much wrong with her behavior. She is not someone I want setting policy for our school systems. She might have some good ideas, but I’m sure there are plenty of other people out there with good ideas who can promote them with civility.

Rush Limbaugh: People are calling for the Republicans to denounce what he said. I don’t think that goes nearly far enough. Every group in the United States should denounce his behavior — Republicans, Democrats and every other group out there. Every group that strives to make this country a better place. A more tolerant country. A more peaceful country. After all, we’re all at risk if this behavior goes unchecked. I am proud of the sponsors that have pulled out of Rush’s show, but I want to ask, “What took you so long?” This is not the first time he has stepped way over the line. He has made his career by stepping over the line. He could get his views across without trash talking the people he disagrees with. Keep hitting him and his radio stations where it hurts — their pocket books.

The Republican 3: I’ve heard people in the media say that once the Republican nomination process is over, whoever wins the nomination is then going to go after the president in exactly the same way that Romney, Santorum and Gingrich have gone after each other. Forget their ideology, do we really want such as these representing us as elected officials? The election process of our highest officials doesn’t have to turn into a mud-slinging spectacle. We could use a bit of true leadership from our supposed leaders. And if our media would stop focusing on the latest trash talk, the candidates would have to go back to offering brilliant and innovative solutions to our nations problems to get their next “sound bite” (read that as "air time").  If I want trash talking, I’ll watch a soap opera.

For the betterment of our society, we need to take a stand against incivility in all its forms. A lack of basic civility is the real issue. When you make the discussion about abortion, gay rights, racism, or whatever, people on opposite sides of these issues use their values and beliefs to justify egregious behaviors, even when their supposed values and beliefs generally speak against such behaviors. These issues aren’t the problem, they are symptoms of the problem. Being civil has nothing to do with a person's values or beliefs, it has to do with a person’s character.

I’m not talking about what you say, but how you say it. The First Amendment gives us the right to speak our minds. Unfortunately, it doesn’t say anything about how we should be voicing our opinions. Perhaps the Founding Fathers thought that this was obvious, so they didn’t bother to mention it in the Constitution. So let’s fill in that hole. Let’s promote, indeed require, basic civility when dealing with each other. What if, as a society, we make a decision to make civility a priority? This needs to be the first domino. All the rest would quickly follow once this one is taken care of.

One final note, before I get a ton of comments arguing political points and value/belief systems, please re-read the column and understand the point of it. Don’t give in to the knee-jerk reaction of needing to argue about your favorite hot topics when they were simply used as examples as part of this discussion.

roy March 14, 2012 at 06:25 PM
"I made it to the higher ground!" A tsunami survivor! Or, the Red Hot Chili Peppers!!! Stevie Wonder!!! Or "get high" Cheech and Chong!!! Rock on!!!!!
Pro Death March 14, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Sorry Karen, have to be on the look out for whack jobs all day long. I don't like the idea of somebody unstable having the ability to know where I live and work by the click of the mouse. I fear for the safety for my family, friends and neighbors every day. The world is no longer a safe place.
Jack Donovan March 14, 2012 at 11:27 PM
This is a coward's way of saying "silence mean talk, especially when the person's views are different than mine. Slaughter's Law: "When one person accuses another of "hiding behind the first amendment", the first person is in the wrong, no matter what else they have to say."
Ebben Flow March 15, 2012 at 02:13 PM
Perhaps your own words would carry more weight if you didn't run around worrying about who posts under what name. I have NO way of knowing that your "real" name is Karen Silva, or if that was the name of your third grade gym teacher. What I posted in this thread was not a political viewpoint. It was informational, because so many people don't seem to understand what the first amendment really means. The author, along with several people who commented, needed a clue and I gave hem one.
Gene Bartholomew April 13, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Great article, sorry I didn't see it sooner. Yes it seems the Republicans have taken truth and accuracy and thrown them out the back window and with their control of SCOTUS and the billions in their coffers they can lie all they want. I was floored recently when I read an article about the wacko extremist Santorum. He stated that Obamacare (which doesn't exist by the way) will bring us to the mass euthanasia they have in the Netherlands where the elderly wear a special wrist band ( because you know health care professionals can't tell the difference between the yound and elderly by looking) and the wrist band is a Do Not Euthanize Me band because half of the deaths are by euthanasia and they just discard the elderly that way. Total BS, yes they have euthanasia, its by choice and something like 1-2% of all deaths are by euthanasia. When called on the lie his staff said he wasn't lying, he was just "speaking from his heart". Well then his heart is full of............ ugh...how deep can it get???


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