How Free is Free? Should There be Limits to Our Freedom of Speech?

Even in 2016, the United States of America is an anomaly among nations. You'd think that wouldn't be the case, but it's true. Few nations in the world guarantee the kind of rights and freedoms granted to U.S. citizens.

Way back in 1776, there were few democracies in the world. There were zero nations that had an iron-clad Constitution that promised- among other things- freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the right to bear arms.

And while many nations have followed America's example since then, granting similar freedoms to their people, few have those freedoms protected in such a way that a simple piece of legislation cannot override them.

I've talked before about the deplorable state of free speech in the United Kingdom. Although they promise free speech, they have variety of laws that will get you into hot water if you say something publically that might offend someone. And that's not even getting into religion.

Now the U.K. just passed a bill that will allow their government to "retain records of every messaging service and website UK-based citizens visit from any device." For those that might not understand what that means, let me explain: the United Kingdom is now an Orwellian police state. Their government can and will monitor everything a citizen says on messaging and social network websites. This is a scary new reality Brits have to live in, a reality where they will be afraid of what they say online because the government is watching them.

Canada isn't much better. And you will be hard-pressed to find any other nation that doesn't infringe on the basic human rights of its citizens. However, here in America, we have citizens that are allowed to say and do some of the most radical and stupid things with zero punishment from the government.

Why is this the case? Why does it seem that America has such open and unprecedented freedoms that cannot be revoked by the government?

While we do have our serious problems when it comes to personal liberties, the U.S. government cannot openly suppress freedom of speech because of the way is has been provided to us. The fundamentals of our Constitution prevent the government from easily passing laws that erode or outright revoke rights granted by the Bill of Rights.

It's incredibly hard to pass an amendment to our Constitution. Not only do two-thirds of Congress have to vote in favor of an amendment, but then three-fourths of the states have to also approve.  This is by design, so that radical laws can't be passed that infringe on Americans' rights. No other country protects its citizens' freedoms so vehemently.

That means fundamental freedoms of religion, speech, and gun ownership cannot be easily removed or limited by the government (although with gun rights, they often try).

Such widespread protection of our freedoms, though, have been largely taken for granted by many Americans. People who grow up in this kind of environment don't understand how precious it is to say what you think without fear of retaliation. It doesn't seem like we recognize that with these rights, comes a certain amount of responsibility.

Just peruse the social network of your choice and you'll see a deluge of ridiculous, nonsensical, and sometimes downright reprehensible comments made by Americans. While we have the freedom to say whatever we want, that also means people can say some terrible things.

But does the freedom of speech mean we have the freedom to offend? Does this freedom only extend to such statements that are liked by all people, or should there be limits put in place to prevent actual, damaging comments from being made?

The freedom of speech is so fundamental to our way of life, we don't even realize it. This freedom allows people to launch new businesses, create clever marketing campaigns, build a political platform, start trends in creative spheres, and much more. Without it, groups like the NAACP or the ACLU wouldn't exist. But it also means more destructive groups, like Black Lives Matter and the KKK, or ridiculous groups like PETA, can also exist.

Being able to say what you believe is the foundation to start a movement.  It also protects you when you want to make a bold, albeit controversial, statement.

In the 1960's, free speech was tested to it very limits. A counter-culture revolution emerged, challenging the status quo of our society, government, beliefs- almost every aspect of our way of life. It catalyzed around the protest of the Vietnam War, a conflict that many young people thought was pointless and refused to die over.

One of the strongest acts of protest during that time was the burning of the American flag. It was an act by Americans who felt betrayed and disillusioned by their country.

You have to understand that young men were being forced to fight in a war they believed was pointless. This wasn't WWII, when our men fought to end the evil of Hitler. This was a war started by political bickering and the constant bullying of the Cold War. America had no real interest in protecting Vietnam, outside of preventing the spread of Communism. Is that really worth sending thousands of our men to die?

You can argue the values of that decades-old conflict all you want, but the fact remained people were exercising their free speech when they burned the flag. Laws that punished people for attacking the flag have been struck down by the Supreme Court.

To many of us, burning the flag seemed disgraceful, much like modern protests appear. But to the young men and women during that era, it wasn't an act of hate towards America, but criticism of a regime they believed violated the values America should stand for.

We are living in a different world. Young men and women today have very little fear of being drafted to fight in a war. Not since Vietnam has our country compelled citizens to fight. Yet we still face problems; there are many young men and women who have issues with our nation and want to find ways to express them.

With the election of Donald Trump, there have been many people trying to find ways to protest. While their views of the President-Elect have been grossly warped by biased media and the radical left, they still have the right to speak their minds.

You may consider it ironic that young people, many of whom did not vote and are being paid to protest, would complain over a free and fair election. You can say that their protests are built on a fundamental misunderstanding of our society and government. But they still have the right to speak.

But do they have the right to burn the American flag? This isn't the Vietnam War. What they are upset about is a democratic election, not being sent to die in another land. Does Donald Trump's win really warrant such a strong and disgraceful demonstration?

Recent comments made by Trump have sparked outrage by the left. He expressed his disappointment that people are burning our flag, suggesting strong punishment for those who do. Of course this has compelled more brain-dead liberals to burn the flag, as a big F-U to our incoming president.

This, of course, is ignoring the fact that their candidate once proposed a law that banned the burning of the flag.

Notably missing from most liberal commentary is the fact that, once upon a time, Hillary Clinton (yes, that Hillary Clinton) also supported punishment for flag burning.

In 2005 she sponsored legislation in favour of punishing those who desecrate flags with either one year in prison or a $100k fine. (via Milo).

You can say the Flag Protection Act of 2005 was just an empty bill meant to make Clinton and its other supporters look good for future reelections. It was never going to pass; had it, the Supreme Court would have shot it down immediately. Yet it proves that both Clinton and Trump had similar feelings about burning the flag.

This coincides with the ridiculous protests we've seen this NFL season, as players refuse to respect the flag during the national anthem. They insult the flag and song of a country that allows them to become millionaires for throwing a ball around. How is that right?

We are entitled to be upset when people- especially other Americans- insult our flag and country. After all, they are disrespecting the many men and women who died to grant and preserve our freedoms.  But taking steps to punish people for burning our flag would infringe on our most fundamental right as Americans.

Burning a flag is a bold statement, but sometimes bold statements must be made. We need to reserve the right to do or say something shocking in order to get people's attention. If we begin to selectively restrict speech, where does it end? If we want to hinder liberals' ability to trash the United States, how long before they begin to limit conservatives' speech?

If you are upset by seeing people burn our flag or insult our National Anthem, use the very same freedoms to fight back.

Call attention to every great person or value that is protected by the United States. Remind those bitter hippies of all the great accomplishments America has achieved. Our country is not perfect, but it's the liberties that form the foundation of our society that make us great.

We must never allow our freedoms to become limited, regardless of how they are abused. But we must always, always, embrace those freedoms to make our country a better place.

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