Who Is Mistral Dawn?

Mistral Dawn is a thirty-something gal who has lived on both coasts of the US but somehow never in the middle. She currently resides in the Southeast US with her kitty cats (please spay or neuter! :-)) where she works as a hospital drudge and attends graduate school. Taken By The Huntsman is her first effort at writing fiction and if it is well received she has ideas for several more novels and short-stories in this series. Please feel free to visit her on FaceBook or drop her a line at mistralkdawn@gmail.com

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Can I Say That?

Hey Everyone!! :-)

Today, I'd like to talk about something that there seems to be a lot of confusion about, the free speech protections offered by the First Amendment. See, I've been hearing a lot of people complaining lately that others are infringing on their rights to free speech, and it seems to me that many of those who complain the loudest seem to have the most confusion about what those rights actually are.

For once, this isn't directed at any particular political leaning. I've seen the same problem on both sides of the aisle. But I thought it might help if I tried to clear the matter up a bit. I'm not a lawyer, but then one doesn't really need to be to understand this most basic of rights. But if you disagree with me, I'd be interested to hear your reasoning in the comments. Okay, ready? Here we go. ;-)

First, and most important, the only thing the First Amendment protects you from is government interference with your right to speak your mind freely. It does not protect you from your employer, your neighbor, or anyone else. That's not to say that other people may physically assault you for speaking your mind, they certainly may not, but not because of the First Amendment. There are other laws that prohibit physical violence and assault, and if a person breaks those laws they are likely to suffer the consequences of doing so. But those laws have nothing to do with the First Amendment.

No, the only thing the First Amendment protects your speech from is the government. That means that on public property you may speak your mind, so long as you are not violating any other laws, and you may not be prohibited from speaking or arrested for doing so.  It does not mean that your neighbor, or a store owner, is required to allow you to speak on their privately owned property. It also does not mean that Facebook or Twitter or any other social media company is required to allow you to use their platform to voice your opinion.

Now, I personally believe that those companies shouldn't engage in deciding which voices may be heard on their platforms and which may not. Because, in my opinion, social media is more a public than private space and the companies depend on an infrastructure that was developed publicly.  But the platforms are privately owned, and so may be controlled by the entities that own them. And my opinions are not the law.

So, if any individual or company tells you that you may not speak your mind on their private property, they are not violating your First Amendment rights. It is only the government that may not interfere, and then only on public property or on private property that you have permission from the owner to speak on. And there are limits to what you may say, though those limits are intentionally restricted to circumstances when what you say, or the manner in which you say it, can be reasonably expected to put the lives and/or safety of other people in serious jeopardy.

For instance, the classic example is yelling, "Fire!" in a crowded building when there is no fire. Such an action is not protected under the First Amendment because there is a high probability that people will be injured or killed in the ensuing panic. Another example would be if you threatened to physically harm another person. That last is a bit more of a gray area, since there are any number of jokes or common expressions that depend on making "threats" that the speaker clearly has no intention of carrying out. In order to bring criminal charges, the government would have to be able to make the case that the threat was credible and had intent behind it. But that's why the court system exists. And short of those extreme circumstances, the government may not interfere with your ability to speak your mind.

However, the First Amendment does not guarantee you an audience.  Not in any way, shape, or form. There seems to be some confusion about this, because I've heard quite a few people complain that others are not respecting their First Amendment rights because they won't listen to them. Umm...nope, sorry. That's not how it works.

I mean, I'm an author. There are times that I wish others were required to pay attention to my work. It would certainly help my book sales. But that's simply not the case. The First Amendment guarantees the government may not interfere with your right to speak, it doesn't say anything about compelling other people to listen. If you want others to give you their attention, you're going to have to say something interesting enough to attract it. Sorry.

Also, the First Amendment does not guarantee that you may speak without fear of criticism. Sorry, my friends, the only "safe space" for your words is the one between your ears. If you don't want to be criticized for speaking, I'm afraid you'll need to keep your mouth shut and your thoughts to yourself.  If you put your ideas and opinions out into the world, the world will judge them and may let you know, vociferously at times, whether or not it is in agreement with you. Why? Because other people have the same right to speak that you do.

And, what's more, you consented to being criticized by opening your mouth and exposing your thoughts to the public. Sometimes, having your words shredded is the price of admission for speaking. It's not always a pleasant feeling, as I'm perfectly well aware. If you don't believe me, take a look at some of the reviews people have left for my books. There is more than one that is rather harsh, but that's what happens when everyone has the right to speak their mind freely.

No matter what you say or how you say it, you're never going to please everyone. Some people will agree with you and some won't. Some from both extremes will let you know what they think. And they have the right to do that, the same as you had the right to speak to begin with.

The good news? You don't have to just stand there and take it. You have the right to speak in turn and criticize their ideas and the way they expressed them. Why? Because the First Amendment guarantees you the right to speak. Or, you may choose to ignore them and walk away, instead. Why? Because the First Amendment does not guarantee them an audience either.

See, that's how things work when everyone has the same rights as everyone else. The upside is that you get to say what you want, and the government can't stop or punish you. The downside is that everyone else can do the same, even people you disagree with so strongly that you would spend your entire life fighting against what they promote. But that's also an upside, because any right that's taken away from others can also be taken away from you.

So, to recap. Yes, the First Amendment does guarantee that the government may not prevent you from or punish you for speaking, except under very limited and well-defined circumstances. No, the First Amendment does not require that others listen to you when you speak. No, if someone disagrees with you and criticizes you, they are not violating your First Amendment rights. And, no, the owner of private property is not under any obligation to allow your speech on their property.  I hope that helps clear things up. :-)


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