Dear Conservatives: Do You Really Believe in Free Speech?

Dear Conservatives: Do You Really Believe in Free Speech? September 25, 2017

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I have to admit, I’m not understanding the consistency of your logic, conservative friends.

While our country is facing a string of catastrophic natural disasters and seems to be edging closer to the brink of nuclear war, the President is spending his time cursing and denouncing NFL players who do not stand during the national anthem.

It’s truly an inexplicable and twisted prioritization of issues. As so many of you jump on board with this national distraction, it also reveals a deep inconsistency in the supposed belief system of an “American patriot.”

As conservative American patriots, you claim to love America above all others. I used to be one of you, in every way you can imagine.

I believed in our freedoms. I believed those who hate us, hate us because of those freedoms, and I believed that people’s attitudes toward America should be “love it or leave it.”

I was just like so many of you who consider yourself American “patriots” today.

However, as I have watched Trump’s rants on twitter– cursing black athletes who take a knee during the national anthem, calling one’s mother a bitch, and his insisting that the NFL should fine or fire anyone who doesn’t “respect the flag,” I am reminded once again why I no longer belong to the roaring crowd of professing patriots.

You see, what’s clear to me is that you love our freedom– right up until the point that people actually use it.

Furthermore, in situations like this you prove you don’t really believe in free speech at all– because you can’t say you believe in free speech, but also believe in compelled speech.

We often frame first amendment as having the freedom to speak your mind and say whatever you want. The concept of free speech is often seen as the freedom to actively say something– it’s framed as freedom to take action, instead of freedom to take inaction. What we forget is that the freedom of speech isn’t always about saying something. What is equally true is that the freedom of speech is also a freedom to say nothing at all.

Conversely, when we describe the next part of the first amendment– the freedom of religion– we often describe it as the freedom to do, or not do something.

We don’t simply say, “I have the freedom to practice my religion” but would also say, “you cannot force me to practice yours.” Case in point: it’s why people lose their shit at the mere mention of sharia law.

Thus, we easily see that freedom of religion means we have freedom from being compelled to participate in a particular religion.

However, when it comes to the issue of free speech, so many of you American patriots who would start a civil war if someone tried to compel you to practice Islam, have absolutely no problem compelling someone to say or express things they do not wish to say or express, when the topic at hand is patriotism.

Here’s what you’re missing and the inconsistency in your own logic: When you say that people should be forced to stand for the national anthem or lose their job, you are in fact insisting that people be forced to express a sentiment or belief they do not actually believe or wish to express.

This is compelled speech. It is using force and coercion to make someone express something they do not want to.

All this brings us to a legitimate question, conservative friends: Do you really believe in the first amendment? Do you really believe in the freedom of speech and expression?

Because when it comes to religion, you rightly have a visceral reaction to even the slightest hint that you might be forced to express something you don’t want to express. You see the freedom of religion as including freedom from having to participate in any religious expression you don’t want to.

And you know what? You’re right on that count. In fact, I don’t know anyone who would remotely disagree.

So– and here’s the kicker– why is it, that when it comes to the freedom of speech and expression during our national anthem, you no longer believe that it’s wrong to force someone to express something they don’t want to express? How is it that your logic and expressed values completely go out the window the minute the flag comes out?

Because if you *really* believed in the freedom of speech and expression, you’d also be firmly against compelled expression.

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unafraid 300Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. 

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