Free?

I feel really blessed to be protected the Canadian Charter of Rights. I recognize and understand that the majority of the world is not protected by such a charter and that by default, the fact that I was born on Canadian soil, I am entitled to rights.

The concept of free speech has been on my mind lately. I know a girl who dropped a course because of bigotry and prejudice that was occurring in the classroom, as students talked about minorities, hateful incitement and freedom of speech. I felt sad that in an academic environment, someone would feel like they could no longer stay in a class because they were being openly discriminated against. After my friend finished telling the story about her class, I felt pretty convinced that there should be limits on what people say. The class was discussing the idea of racist and hateful radio shows hosted by white supremacists.

The the other day I heard a song on the radio by Pink, of all people. The song is called “Dear Mr. President.” Here are some of the lyrics…

Dear Mr. President
Were you a lonely boy
Are you a lonely boy
Are you a lonely boy
How can you say
No child is left behind
We’re not dumb and we’re not blind
They’re all sitting in your cells
While you pave the road to hell

What kind of father would take his own daughter’s rights away
And what kind of father might hate his own daughter if she were gay
I can only imagine what the first lady has to say
You’ve come a long way from whiskey and cocaine

As I listened to the song, I was struck by the freedom that we have- and that Americans have. I guess it is important to remember that this is a political freedom- remember the fiasco when the Dixie Chicks said that they were ashamed that the President was from their home state. The Dixie Chicks’ record sales plummeted and they received death threats. I imagine that Pink did not suffer the same ostricization as she probably doesn’t have too many fans in the good ole bible belt. The fact that a song like this can be played on the radio demonstrates our political freedom. I was reminded of the many, many people that disappeared in Latin America for opposing the government. Public political opposition is a freedom that a small minority people are ‘entitled’ too. Let us not forget the images of monks, non-violently protesting, getting beaten with clubs by the junta in Burma. So, in this case, freedom of speech and opinion is good and beneficial.

However, I few weeks ago, I heard about a story that actually made me want to throw up. A church in Kansas, Westboro Baptist Church, has been protesting at the funerals of dead soldiers. The hold signs that say “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “God hates America.” People like this make me sick and make me want to not call myself a Christian. The people of this church in Kansas have recently been protesting at the funerals of dead soldiers because they are opposed to soldiers fighting for a nation that supports gay people. Everything about this story makes me feel sick. A father of a dead soldier recently won a 11 million dollar lawsuit after the church members protested at his son’s funeral. The pastor of this church is convinced that they will win the appeal because “the reality is that the First Amendment has survived 200 years without anyone protesting funerals, and I think it’s safe to say that if this group is shut down and cannot protest funerals, the First Amendment will survive another 200 years.” You can read the whole story here: http://rawstory.com/news/afp/US_anti_gay_church_to_resume_protes_11022007.html

The point is, the freedom of speech conundrum reappeared. Stories like this beg the question, should their be limits placed on what people can say? Especially when people are promoting hate, racism, and prejudice. Perhaps the difference between the church protesters and the Pink song (besides the obvious) is that Pink criticizes the President’s policies. It’s personal- she isn’t promoting hate for all white men, or all rich men, or for all of the bureaucrats in Washington. But I am thinking, when someone starts promoting and publicizing hateful incitement against groups of people in a systematic fashion, that is when there is a problem. In Rwanda, hate radio encouraged people to kill their neighbors based on their ethnicity.

The law is a tricky thing because perhaps there is a the risk of a slippery slope- are there definable criteria whereby a person or groups can be silenced? There is something incredibly inhumane about hateful protesting at a funeral of a young man, who died serving his country. I don’t necessarily agree with war, but I do have the utmost respect for those who selflessly serve their country. That is besides the point though. The point is, the death of a son, a brother, a husband – is probably one of the most private, horrible, painful experiences. These families deserve respect. I don’t care about the freedom of speech in this case- it’s wrong. And hateful. And Incredibly sad.

I’m thankful that I live in a country where I am free to oppose the government, that I am free to practice a religion- or not. But I do not think it’s right to publicly broadcast hate, racism, misogyny- despite freedom of speech.

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