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MEDIA MATTERS: Protecting free speech essential to democracy

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We've heard a lot lately about what it takes to be a “real” American.

It seems to me that we can get ourselves into a lot of trouble if we start to ignore a few relevant incidents from our past when it comes to telling just what a “real” American is.

On May 29, 1765, Patrick Henry stood in the Virginia Convention and made a speech protesting the Stamp Act, a tax that required printed materials be made on stamped paper produced in London instead of the American colonies.

During his speech he said, “Caesar had his Brutus; Charles the First, his Cromwell; and George III may profit by their example.”

When the speaker of the convention cried treason, Henry went on to say, “If this be treason, make the most of it.”

Some 10 years later Paul Revere spread the word as the British marched into Lexington and Concord, and the patriots said, in essence, “The British are coming to get our guns, we better shoot them before they do.”

The point here is not that violence is a good thing, or we should shoot people who disagree with us.

In fact, it is just the opposite.

It has also been said the antidote for hatred is not less speech, but more speech.

If there is speech we disagree with, the solution is not suppression but more speech.

If there are views or positions we don't agree with, we don't need to bury our heads in the sand, we need more speech.

In his speech more than two centuries ago, Henry was protesting the Stamp Act that was actually an attempt by the British government to put certain newspapers out of business – newspapers that were opposed to royal control of the colonies.

Other patriots used public speech to say the same thing; the Declaration of Independence, for instance, very clearly says if the people don’t agree with what the government is doing, then they need to overthrow that government and institute a new one.

The whole point here is that free speech, while it may make us uncomfortable, is how free people, Americans, let the government know what they are feeling, and that they want some changes.

It might also at this time be helpful to remember another statement, by Benjamin Franklin, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Tagged under  History, Journalism, Larry Burris, Media Matters, Politics, Voices

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