[Masthead] A Few Clouds ~ 42°F  
High: 57°F ~ Low: 33°F
Friday, Nov. 28, 2014

How much freedom of speech?

Posted Monday, November 1, 2010, at 9:05 AM

I was at a Shelbyville intersection Sunday afternoon next to an SUV with bumper stickers, 15 or 20 of them, covering its rear liftgate.

At least two, at eye level, contained the offensive "F" word.

Should laws ban obscene language from being placed on the rear of a vehicle, keeping in mind that driving is a privilege, not a right? Or should total freedom of speech prevail?

It's something I bounce around in my mind. No one who objects should be forced to see obscene language blatently placed in their face. But would limiting what's placed on someone's personal property -- considering that in this case the personal property's prominently displayed on a public road -- be going too far?


Comments
Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

This is something that I am torn over too, David. I believe completely in one's right to express themselves, they should at least take common decency into account. What is common decency? These days it seems to be leaning more and more towards the "obscene". Then you have to ask yourself, if the word "fudge" had been substituted, would that be acceptable? If so, why? The intent is the same, the words have just changed. Since the intent of the message is the same, why is that any better? I understand that some people don't want their kids exposed to salty language and that's fine, but where do you draw the line? Who gets to decide what is and what is not acceptable? Some of the political bumper stickers, in my opinion, are offensive but it is the right of the owner of that vehicle to decide what they are and aren't going to display on their bumper.

Take solace in this tidbit though. According to a 2008 study by Colorado State University social psychologist William Szlemko. Drivers of cars with bumper stickers, window decals, personalized license plates and other "territorial markers" tend to drive more aggressively. That means they're more likely to get into an accident and more likely to get pulled over by a cop which may or may not take that "F-bomb" sticker into account when deciding whether or not to give this clown a ticket.

-- Posted by Thom on Mon, Nov 1, 2010, at 10:01 AM

I could see where people would use the whole "freedom of speech" canned response if you said anything to them.

I don't think it's a matter of any given right but rather a matter of a persons moral fortitude. Well in this case lack of.

It's kind of like the language we use. I admit to be very loose with language around friends and such, but when there is someone else present, especially children, I take special care to censor my words accordingly.

-- Posted by SirJim on Mon, Nov 1, 2010, at 12:05 PM

It's a disgrace to "AMERICA's FREEDOM" that anything relate to "GOD" can not be said but one can use abusive languge to the limits in public with no quilt.

-- Posted by RGeneW on Mon, Nov 1, 2010, at 2:12 PM

I saw some bumper stickers that were of the kind you refer to on a car at Wendy's a few weeks ago. I tore them off. Thankfully they weren't stuck to tightly. I guess I'm guilty of vandalism. It angered me because a little girl about 10 years old saw them as well. If there was a confrontation I was more than ready to defend myself, in the street or in the court room.

-- Posted by MyMrMarty on Mon, Nov 1, 2010, at 10:49 PM

I use to have a sign on my old car that said "Mean People Suck" and a couple of people complained about it but I never took it off. Some people are easily offended and such and if you start policing such things then where does it end?

-- Posted by jaxspike on Tue, Nov 2, 2010, at 10:18 AM

Freedom of Speech is a very important part of our country, but we have lost sight of RESPONSIBILITY and ACCOUNTABILITY for that speech. When it is insulting, foul our improper the person who has chosen to use it have also chosen to accept the consequences for those words.For example used to be if you chose to spread lies about a person, you chosen to be held accountable for slander. If you chose to use words intended to start trouble you were held accountable for the trouble you intentionally started. Yes we have rights, but at what point do we decide how many other rights we are allowed to trample to express ours? At some points there will be confrontations between the rights of one vrs another, who decides whose rights trumps the others?

-- Posted by wonderwhy on Tue, Nov 2, 2010, at 5:13 PM

As much as I agree with the accountability and responsibility aspects, there is no right to never be offended. Nobody has the right to tell me what I can or can't say just because it might offend their delicate sensibilities. If that were the case, everyone would have to wear t-shirts listing what offends them so nobody crossed those bounds.

Simply the possibility that I might offend someone is no reason for me to temper my language regularly. I tend to do so out of respect of others not the fear that I might offend them.

I've been called many things, as I'm sure you folks could imagine...politically correct is NOT one of them.

-- Posted by Thom on Tue, Nov 2, 2010, at 9:38 PM

Sadly our country is losing the value for respectability. Was a day when we valued how we presented ourselves to others, it was expected that we act in manners that were up standing and honorable. We have turned into a country where the more vulgar, shocking and off color people act the more attention they get, yet nobody has the same conviction of "freedom of speech" to tell those folks their behavior is improper and unwelcome. We have become cowardly and are more likely to turn away and whisper when we see or hear bad behavior than we are to speak up and tell the offenders they are acting like or sound like uneducated, low life jerks when they cuss, or present themselves as such. Just because we can act that way does not mean we should, nor does it mean we do not have the right to confront someone who does and tell them they need to show some class. Over the summer I was at a little league event and some guy was "f" this and that, yes he has a right to free speech but there is a time and place for things and he was totally out of line, yet everyone just quietly commented behind his back and no exercised their freedom of speech to tell him what a jerk he was acting like(me included).When actions like that impede the right of others around them to enjoy their right to a good time I say the offenders right is not as great as the rights of those he was interfering with. If he wanted to act like a gutter rat he should have taken it else where, a family setting is not the proper place for it. We need to reinforce positive behavior and stop allowing ourselves to be intimidated by those who feel the need to ruin things for those around them. This used to be a respectable country where people valued honor and respectable behavior,like the great eagle that represents our land, sadly to many appear to be slipping to behavior and values of a gutter rat.

-- Posted by wonderwhy on Wed, Nov 3, 2010, at 10:07 AM

You are absolutely correct in that we have, as a society, lost our sense of respect for others. I don't dispute that one SHOULD temper their language, but my interpretation of the First Amendment is that it should be a personal decision, not a mandate. I have no problems at all going up to someone that's swearing like a sailor in front of kids, women, or generally in a public setting, and letting them know that it's not appropriate. I try to do so in a non-confrontational manner, how they react is up to them. I'm simply trying to remind them that this isn't appropriate to some people. That's really all that we, as a society, can do in those situations. There have been laws restricting the use of profanities in front of children and those have been struck as unconstitutional. I happen to agree with those rulings. If I'm in my yard working on the fence and hit my hand with the hammer (happens more than I would like for it to) and a couple of words from my years as a sailor come out of my mouth I could be arrested just because someone is letting their kids play in the street in front of my house? Nope, that's not acceptable. With the right to free speech comes the responsibility to treat each other with respect. My rule of thumb is that I will generally wait until the person I'm speaking with swears before I do if we're just shooting the breeze. In a professional setting, that's not acceptable, let someone else have to take the walk to HR. In a social setting with children or older people around, same thing. My point is that some of us have restraint, some people just don't have that filter between their brain and their mouth. The government shouldn't dictate to me what I can say and when I can say it, I can do that on my own (sometimes with my wife's assistance).

-- Posted by Thom on Wed, Nov 3, 2010, at 12:58 PM

MyMrMarty, While I do understand your frustration, I have to wonder if your own example of abandoning the rule of law by infringing upon the property rights of another was any more appropriate than the stickers. If everyone possessed the ability to deface whatever they found offensive, we would have much larger issues than an occasional four letter word.

No one is guaranteed the right to never be offended, not you, me, or even the innocent ten year old. It is unfortunate that we sometimes have to accommodate what we may consider to be questionable expressions, but that accommodation is necessary for the protection of our own.

-- Posted by memyselfi on Sat, Nov 6, 2010, at 12:52 AM

The only assurance we have that public expression remains civil is the public expression of the disapproval of such speech (Community Stardards from the Miller Test for obscenity). When the "community" fails to express its disapproval then we forfeit the standard. We have become an uncivil society and therefore uncivil expression has become the norm. At least MyMrMarty struck a small blow for a higher standard.

-- Posted by devan on Sat, Nov 6, 2010, at 8:27 AM

I have heard that people who use foul language are too ignorant to express themselves otherwise. Whether you believe this or not, it is a shame the language our little ones hear and repeat. I know a kindergartner teacher who resigned because she was tired of being cursed and kicked by the little children. This is absolutedly shameful for the little ones, and when it comes out of the mouth it can not be taken back. So be careful what you say as you never know who is listening and we know God hears all. Think twice before you speak, might be a good motto for us all.

-- Posted by Poksalad on Sat, Nov 6, 2010, at 11:04 AM

I don't know devan. It seems to me that what you are attempting to judge is the intention, rather than the act. Of course, that is okay, but I question the soundness of that reasoning within this context. When evaluating actions within a community (particularly a diverse one) utilitarian measures of that behavior are invariably problematic.

If removing boorish stickers from a strangers car is a small blow for a higher standard from your perspective, should a Muslim removing Jesus fish, or a liberal peeling off pro-life bumper stickers, from a strangers car be equally appreciated by their ideological associates? It represents the very same imposition of will.

The key word in your comment was community-specifically as a contrast to individuals. It is the community's collective responsibility to police standards, not each individual's. By the very nature of community, each member must defer to the collective.

Not that I hope to give MyMrMarty a hard time. I don't care if he goes around town all week removing every bumper sticker and Jesus fish from every car he sees. I was just hoping to point out that for someone to be concerned with setting a good example, his own reaction may not have been any better than the offending stickers, maybe even worse.

-- Posted by memyselfi on Sun, Nov 7, 2010, at 5:06 AM

But isn't the collective responsibility of the community eventually expressed by the actions of individuals? Maybe we could declare a "Remove an Offending Bumper Sticker" day. Afterward we could do a count of the remaining stickers to determine what is the community standard.

-- Posted by devan on Sun, Nov 7, 2010, at 7:20 AM

Again, I don't know. Is the collective responsibility of a community eventually expressed by the actions of individuals? I guess it depends upon which particular actions by individuals we examine. Are they counter to the existent ethos that already guides the community's behavior? Judging from the police reports, we have a significant number of individuals who have no qualms commandeering the property of another. If enough individuals accept that standard, should it become the standard of the community? If so, what is the percentage necessary to justify this transformation? 51%, 66% 99%? The way I see it, even if 99% of the community is in agreement, the standard they hope to set contradicts the tenets of our already shared existence and crosses the normative boundaries afforded by any social contract, particularly our own. It is only on these grounds that I question MyMrMarty's behavior. I cannot personally look past the issues of personal property rights, freedom of expression, and due process simply to justify what may in fact be a morally supportable desire.

LOL! While I do like the idea, I am afraid what we would discover, is that after a week of removals and reprisal removals, the community standard would support absolutely no expression on vehicles - punishable by death. Unfortunately, as is usually the case, a few of the most dogmatic from every corner would labor with all diligence, until the end result was so far removed from the average person's position, no one would be satisfied. Sound at all familiar?

-- Posted by memyselfi on Sun, Nov 7, 2010, at 11:18 PM

I hate it when people say "Driving is a Privilege not a Right".

First of all driving IS a Right "if you were born in this country and part of the sovereignty of this state". See Tennessee Constitution Article I, 1. Powers of people.

Driving is a 14th Amendment "Civil Right Privilege" for immigrants who come to our Country and "become" U.S. citizens under its exclusive jurisdiction. They must pay a tax (License) to have the "Privilege" to do what "We the People" have an inalienable right to do, without interference from the State or National Government.

Your Somalians must purchase a license for the Privilege to drive, but we have a Constitutional Right to drive.

We also have a Right to express ourselves with the uncensored freedom of speech.

However, if we are to be Sovereign people under God, we must govern ourselves as Godly people. Only God has the right to take away our Sovereignty, not the governments.

Here is the catch, if you are an immigrant or 14th Amendment citizen, you are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the U.S. Government and only have the privilege of freedom of speech, or put bluntly, you can say anything you want to as long as the government allows you to.

If the "N" word can land you in jail, so can the "F" word. I read somewhere where censors looked at the "F" word two different ways. If used by itself as just a word, it was allowed, but if used as a sexual word, it was a no no. This was TV Censoring guidelines.

I have seen many TV shows that don't follow that guide line thou.

Here is the problem... when you protest too loudly, everyone loses their right to whatever is being protested. Outlaw the "F" word and what other words will be outlawed. I can remember when you could give a person the finger, now I'm not so sure. People are being arrested just for saying things about someone because it hurt their feelings. People are being ordered to attend the infamous anger management courses when they get angry.

Live and let live.

-- Posted by Unique-Lies on Tue, Nov 9, 2010, at 1:05 AM


Respond to this blog

Posting a comment requires free registration. If you already have an account, enter your username and password below. Otherwise, click here to register.

Username:

Password:  (Forgot your password?)

Your comments:
Please be respectful of others and try to stay on topic.


David Melson is a copy editor and staff writer for the Times-Gazette.