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.

Bob B March 16, 2012 at 12:46 AM
I can see how my comparison would be inconvenient for you. The truth is that when one party passes money to a second party, the second party is not legally bound to do anything and everything the fist party demands. I am not a lawyer, but I believe that is why we have contracts. From a government-centric point of view, the government loves the concept of buying control through the redistribution of our money. In the land of the free, it is a concept that is repugnant to many.
Bob B March 16, 2012 at 12:49 AM
Maria, what you don't get is the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Maria Giannuzzi March 16, 2012 at 01:04 AM
The Target address you give is a very long way from Georgetown University. And it was not the safest area when I lived there. Crime was a concern. Georgetown is along the Potomac River and 3100 14th Street is a very long distance away. There is no subway station in Georgetown, so you would have a very long walk from Georgetown University to the nearest subway stops at Foggy Bottom or Dupont Circle and then take a long subway ride, transferring to a second train before arriving at Target. Many people in Washington do not have cars. The cost of the subway would probably be at least $5. The Georgetown University campus is about a 10 minute walk to Georgetown.
Bob B March 16, 2012 at 01:12 AM
Please look up the definition of a "public institution" - an institution that receives the majority of funding through the government. Although the government would undoubtedly like religious institutions to be under its control, the pesky First Amendment keeps getting in the way.
Maria Giannuzzi March 16, 2012 at 01:15 AM
The religious institutions can walk away from taxpayer money any time they choose. They operated without government money for hundreds of years. Perhaps I am wrong but I thought it was the religious institutions and their supporters in government and the social conservative movement who lobbied for federal money.
Maria Giannuzzi March 16, 2012 at 01:17 AM
Since you are not a lawyer, Bob, why don't we let the courts decide this one.
Bob B March 16, 2012 at 01:20 AM
2.9 miles. You disputed Tricia G's claim that there was a target "within a few miles." She was right. You were wrong once again, although I am confident that you will want to redefine what the meaning of "within a few miles." is.
Maria Giannuzzi March 16, 2012 at 01:22 AM
Your problem, Bob, is not with my understanding of the problems of low-wage workers, but the fact that I am willing to communicate that information in a public forum, apparently some thing you are either unwilling or unable to do.
Bob B March 16, 2012 at 01:24 AM
Exactly. I have not suggested otherwise. I am merely attempting to counterbalance the outlandish statments and easily refutable claims that you have peppered throughout this thread.
Bob B March 16, 2012 at 01:27 AM
For what purpose. What IS your point? Do you just want to further establish your bona fides beyond your Dunkin Donut conversations?
Maria Giannuzzi March 16, 2012 at 01:51 AM
Bob, you seem to enjoy calling me wrong. It seems to have become an obsession. "Fluke is also a liar about the cost of birth control, as a nearby Target store sells birth control pills." "It's not the only store in the Georgetown area." The Target is not in the Georgetown area, nor is it near Georgetown if you do not have a car, and even with a car, it would take a while to get there. It is in a completely different part of a large city. And when I lived there, that area was not a particularly safe area. I suppose people who never walk anywhere would have a different sense of distance, though. But here is an assignment for you, walk about 30-35 minutes to the nearest subway station, wait 10 minutes for a subway train, spend 10 minutes on the train, get off the train, wait another 5-10 minutes, get on another train, and then travel 10-15 minutes on this train, get off the train at the subway stop, and then walk another 10-15 minutes to the Target store, making sure you are not followed by some weird-looking guy talking to himself. The subway will cost you about $5. Of course, if you have a sprained ankle, this little jaunt would be impossible. My hunch is neither you or Tricia could manage such an outing.
Bob B March 16, 2012 at 02:26 AM
It is actually fun, although quite time consuming, to point out all the factually incorrect statement you make here. You were trying to refute Tricia's statement that there was a Target in the "Georgetown area" "within a few miles". It could not be more simple, she was correct and you were wrong. You predictably try to rationalize your errors rather than simply ever admitting that you are actually wrong. Regarding your contention that DC is dangerous. I think proponents of limited government would actually agree with you. Congratulations, you got one right.
Tricia G. March 16, 2012 at 02:44 AM
Maria, again you play the "holier than thou" act with your condescending insults, "hunches" and ASSUMPTIONS such as: "I try to understand, which is superior to some individuals who don't even know these workers exist." Doubtless you don't "understand" that most of those $ 8.25 per hr. workers are there because they are either young and have not completed good education, or they quit school, and are thus suffering the consequences of their own bad choices. You know what happens when you "assume," right? Well, you have done it to yourself frequently on Patch. You might try a google search about the facts on the 30 yr. old professional ACTIVIST Sandra Fluke, instead of making specious claims and wailing that this episode is a "war on women."
Bob B March 16, 2012 at 02:51 AM
The estimated cab fare to the Target is $11.50, or $23 round trip. If that trip is made monthly for $9 birth control pills, the annual cost is $384, and my hunch is that both you and Ms. Fluke could actually manage such an outing. Yet Ms. Fluke wants over $1,000 per year for her contraceptives. Milton Friedman on money: 1. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, you really watch out what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money. 2. You can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost. 3. I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, I don't care how much a spend but I am going to make sure I got a lot! 4. I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it is, and I’m not concerned about what I get. Ms Fluke is #3. The government is #4.
Skip Cashwell March 16, 2012 at 09:28 AM
Letterman, Maher...shall I go on...multitudes of liberals and democrats who regularly spew fourth the venom of insults? Nothing in your column is balanced because you do not provide corresponding examples of the utterances by liberals, democrats and Mr. Obama. Ms. Fluke is just that: a fluke (see Webster, definition #2). She is nothing, just a law school student who wants to usurp religious freedom to pay for population control (aka "reproductive rights"). Give the moral citizens of this country some respect. Ms. Fluke and the many cronies who promote liberal, socialistic, typically democrat agendas are the true 1% who think of themselves as the holy of holies.
Megan Bard (Editor) March 16, 2012 at 01:38 PM
Hi folks, There's certainly quite a bit to say on this topic, but please move the conversation forward. If it continues to go in circles with recycled arguments I'm going to close the thread. Thanks, Megan
meowkats4 March 16, 2012 at 03:55 PM
As I read many posts and many comments on various websites. I find many conversations turn into arguments and some get down right nasty. Many bully others on their opinions and those that are agreeable are left alone because the majority of the contributors that are either Politically left or right over power the weaker crowd (because they have lesser contributors on the topics). Have we become uncivilly to one another because of the way our Politicians are running their campaigns? Probably so! Has the Media fueled the fire on each Political side? Probably so! When it comes to the "Constitution or Amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America" should we demand it be changed or made to our liking? It does seem both Political sides want to make changes. Government is giving us Topics that affect each and everyone of us in our daily lives choices we don't want or making changes we don't like therefore, dividing the people. The author of the above topic just wants people to become civil to each other and not allow the out of control government pit one another against each neighbor for our differences of opinions.
Bob B March 16, 2012 at 04:49 PM
I strongly support anyone's right to express their opinions on this site, and actually encourage people to do so. This site can be a sort of electonic town hall. The First Amendment is, at least for the moment, alive and well. In a quote that has been attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, "Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts." Is it appropriate to point out when someone is being fast and loose with the facts? I believe it is. (Upon further review, because of the alleged “war on women”, I would like to replace the idiom used in the last sentence striking “fast” and “loose”. Instead, insert “careless with the facts.” Thank you.)
Tricia G. March 16, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Yes, Bob "This site can be a sort of electonic town hall." Let's "Occupy Patch!" Let's "Occupy Patch!" to bring enlightenment to the uninformed about the Constitutional Principles and Liberties which are being ripped away from Americans (or stealthily smothered)! I love using the forum of Patch, because here the mindless liberal, statist "progressives" cannot shout us down or just divert to another subject, as the pro BIG government propagandists do in most of the media outlets--including CNN, PBS, and on FOX News interviews (ie: Jay what's-his-name with Hannity last night!). I just found some great quotes which have become instant new favorites with me: “An exaggeration is a truth that has lost its temper.” [Reminds me of me sometimes, in my zeal to help save our great nation. ;-p] “In battling evil, excess is good for he who is moderate in announcing the truth is presenting half-truth. He conceals the other half out of fear of the people's wrath.” Khalil Gibran http://www.famousquotes.com/author/gibran/3 Megan and all--have a great weekend! And Bob and Spiff, my new anonymous 'friends of Liberty and TRUTH,' keep up the great work!
Spiff March 16, 2012 at 08:21 PM
Maria Giannuzzi March 16, 2012 at 08:24 PM
We can go round and round about personalties or what are facts and what are not facts, but ultimately thinking individuals have to decide what kind of country they want to live in. Of course, the goal posts keep moving. Almost no one would want to go back to the kind of country we were in the Gilded Age. I think much of the name-calling, derision and sometimes vicious comments heaped on progressives and liberals from those on the extreme right is due to the success of progressives in changing this country for the better. Compassion and empathy are just as much a part of human nature as selfishness and denial. But over the long term, compassion and empathy win out. And that is a fact.
Bob B March 16, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Wow. You don't know me. Yet simply because I tend conservative, in your world view I cannot have compassion or empathy. If I had any, I would sincerely feel sorry for you. Progressives love to talk about the value of diversity and their tolerance for others, but at the end of the day, they inevitably show their true colors. Word of the day: "prejudice" means to prejudge.
Maria Giannuzzi March 16, 2012 at 10:56 PM
I have done a great deal of research. Much of America's economic progress during this period stemmed from the hard work and long hours of low-wage workers, many of whom were children as young as 7 years old. For anyone who is interested in learning more, go to the Library of Congress website's online collections and search for "child labor," "child workers," "newsies or news boys" and "poverty." You can try other search terms as well, such as "industrial accidents, Johnstown Flood, children mineworkers." Look at the "wealth" of truth you find about your country. And weren't the last words of the industrialist Henry Clay Frick to his former business associate, Andrew Carnegie, "I'll see you in hell." Frick was not kidding.
Tricia G. March 16, 2012 at 11:19 PM
Maria, you look down your nose (like Obama) at us common sense conservatives, while you claim "superiority" for your pretend "Compassion and empathy." Why is it pretend, you say? 1) No where in the Bible or in the U.S. Constitution does it authorize "government" to be an instrument of "charity." What government is doing, by "wealth redistribution," is both un-Constitutional and illogical THEFT! 2) "Charity" means pure Christian love of your neighbor, and actions (service, money etc.) to prove that "concern;" and comes from individuals, neighbors, churches, etc. NOT from government! Maria, your Marxist blogging on Patch and elsewhere, and "dropping your life to go demonstrate, etc. for the poor in Hartford" (I'm now paraphrasing an earlier post of yours on another discussion) does NOT constitute "charity." The most "progressive" leftist politicians (some with the greatest wealth!!) like Pelosi, Obama (nouveau riche, but before election), John Kerry, Chris Dudd, Biden, Clinton (before he was pres.) etc. were/are the STINGIEST when it comes to charitable donations!!
Maria Giannuzzi March 16, 2012 at 11:21 PM
Most people tend to have all four qualities, compassion, empathy, selfishness and denial. And for most people, compassion and empathy win out, no matter what their ideology is. This is why America is a very different country today than it was in 1933. Progressives had a lot to do with this change, but it would not have been possible if they hadn't won over people who thought of themselves as conservatives. Everyone will have to decide for themselves how they wish to live their lives and what matters to them.
Maria Giannuzzi March 16, 2012 at 11:47 PM
It's too bad your philosophy of charity did not work during the Gilded Age, and during the first four decades of the 20th century. There were many good people and organizations during these periods who tried to help, but the need was so overwhelming that charity could only meet a small part of the need. And of course, human nature being what it is, there were many selfish and unempathetic individuals who were completely oblivious to the poor and sick or benefitted economically from their plight. Tricia, re paragraph four, I think you have me mixed up with someone else.
Tricia G. March 17, 2012 at 12:25 AM
Maria, please look in the mirror and say "I am a Marxist, who cares more for "progressive" dogma and unlimited government than the U.S. Constitution," because that is what you indeed are, if your comments on Patch accurately represent your views. I'm sorry to have to get so blunt with you, Maria--and I am probably still wasting my time with you, because: "He who is convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." You will no doubt blast me for some other reason as you you go on "LA LA LA, I can't hear you" whenever someone disproves your faulty logic or knowledge of history, economics, etc. but you are very WRONG about your assumptions about me and other conservatives!! And I don't write this to be prideful myself, but you exhibit your arrogant prejudice when you write: "I don't remember you or some of your fellow believers ever using the words compassion or empathy in any other post." I now know no other way to get through to you than by this: In 2010, my husband and I donated 25 % of his NET earnings to CHARITIES. The dollar amount we donated constituted 18.4 % of the gross before taxes income.
000 March 17, 2012 at 01:26 AM
The article was about the first amendment. The post is entitled "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." 99% of the comments have nothing to do with the topic. But then again, maybe this is a good thing. "Abusing the First Amendment." Who is for "abusing anything? And what is "abusing the First Amendment?" There is NO SUCH THING! There can't be. And then the author says "civil" speech is ok. Who's the judge? The ONLY speech that is bad is speech that threatens harm or defrauds, in other words, speech that takes away the rights of others to be free. Bottom line. The first Amendment doesn't exist to protect "civil" or popular speech. It exists to protect the unpopular or even vulgar. Popular and pleasant speech needs no protection. In fact, the idea behind the whole bill of rights is PROTECTION OF THE MINORITY AND UNPOPULAR. The author shows no understanding of liberty and individual rights, as do many of the posters who blab on and on about topics having nothing to do with the post. Yes, I wasn't civil, so what? THAT'S freedom of speech!
Tricia March 17, 2012 at 02:05 AM
Tricia G's proclamations about personal circumstances are not to be believed since he/she is anonymous. No one who is anonymous can make any point based on a statement of personal behavior. Since Tricia is so very fond of quotations, she'd really benefit from taking a lesson from this one: 'Let us, on both sides, lay aside all arrogance. Let us not, on either side, claim that we have already discovered the truth. Let us seek it together as something which is known to neither of us. For then only may we seek it, lovingly and tranquilly, if there be no bold presumption that it is already discovered and possessed.' - St. Augustine
Megan Bard (Editor) March 17, 2012 at 02:22 AM
Thank you for your participation in this discussion, but it's time to bring this thread to a close. Best, Megan


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