Friday, March 28, 2014

Freedom of Expression Does Not Equal Freedom from Criticism

In Talking Points Memo Caitlin MacNeal wrote about a counter-event in the U.S.:
After a Minneapolis, Minn. restaurant hosted a Nazi-themed party on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, an unofficial group has organized a counter-event to protest the original dinner, according to Minneapolis City Pages.

Margie Newman and Susan Schwaidelson Siegfried organized an unofficial group to meet outside of Gasthof Zur Gem├╝tlichkeit on Wednesday evening to honor Holocaust victims.
One of the restaurant owner's earlier comments caught my eye:
... he told the Star Tribune that he'll no longer hold the event.

“We live in a free country...but from the comments I see, a lot of people they don’t see what freedom is. If I break the law, punish me.
I am not familiar with the comments he references, though at least one appears to be about someone wanting to burn down his building. If someone claimed that hosting a Nazi-themed party in the U.S. is illegal, they are wrong. I would not be surprised if nobody said this to him though. In that case, I'm not sure of his meaning when he says "they don't see what freedom is."

Still, the owner's statement reminds me of a surprising number of others I've heard or read regarding topics ranging from politics to a missing Malaysian plane. They boil down to something like this:
Person A: 2+2=5!

Person B: Hmm, I'm pretty sure that's wrong. Here's a rather compelling explanation for why the answer is 4 and not 5 ... Does that make sense to you?

Person A: Look, we could go on and on. I still believe 2+2=5. Don't trample on my free speech!
It amazes when a person in the U.S. claims that someone criticizing their actions or words represents an attack on their freedoms. Freedom of expression does not equal freedom from criticism. In fact, criticism is one of the strongest signs free speech exists. And one can desire to convince a person they should stop doing or saying something while still believing that person has a legally protected right to do or say it.

Freedom of expression is one of the most valuable and powerful rights enjoyed by Americans. But crying "free speech" is one of the weakest ways to defend one's actions or statements, and it's especially a shame when it is done in an attempt to evade constructive, rational debate.

1 comment:

  1. The silent flash mob was not about free speech; the Nazi re-enactors did not break any laws, nor did the restaurant's owner by hosting the party. We worked hard to make that very clear.

    Our sole desire was to make sure the victims of Nazi Germany were not forgotten. We chose silence for our mob because that was the most powerful way to be heard.

    Susan Schwaidelson-Siegfried