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Commentary from the Free Enterprise Foundation, Ethical Standard More Thought Provoking Commentary!
January 25, 2011
You are invited to read this commentary from the Free Enterprise Foundation. It will make you think!
Freedom of Speech
By Robert E. Freer, Jr., President of The Free Enterprise Foundation
“Congress shall make no law…or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for redress of grievances.” - First amendment to Constitution
“We must reject the idea that every time a law's broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions." – Ronald Reagan
In the wake of the gunning down of an esteemed Federal judge, the wounding of Congresswoman Giselle Gifford and fourteen others at a shopping center in Tucson on January 8, the pundits have erupted putting a political twist on what is increasingly evident: This was the sole act of a deranged young man of no fixed ideology. After sampling the broad array of perspectives, I have come away concluding that in the digital age, political perspectives are so finely honed, that the hue and cry was inevitable and focused on the agenda of the “Crier” not the pain of the victims.
I don’t know all these screamers, but their sanctimoniousness, their quickness to speak out and their failure to take a balanced position on what is an unfolding situation, suggests that, rather than empathy for the pain of the victims, it is their own need to stay front and center in the public arena that has prompted their grab for media attention. For them, anything goes to win the cause! They think, “If we are to justify our pay…show our supporters our relevance, we must be “out front” on “this” issue whatever it is.” They are all, left and right, part of the perspective that, like Rahm Emmanuel, says “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”
Despite moves in Congress to broaden the laws protecting federal employees in general and members of Congress in particular, the country as a whole is not prepared to respond with significant changes in our legal structure as a result of this isolated but heinous crime. The Capitol Police do have the responsibility already to assure the security of Congress both in DC and wherever Members go. They normally arrange with local police to cover the member when he or she travels. Similarly U.S. Marshals are responsible for the judiciary. Those responsibilities may need to be strengthened. However, the prospect of further limitation of personal liberty, privacy, enforcement challenges and cost of enforcement, all discourage tackling this issue with much more than words. Benjamin Franklin noted as to free speech, “Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech.”
In my view that is the right outcome. The differences we are now debating are honest and keenly felt. Free and vigorous debate is essential for health in the market of public policy alternatives. Our national history has exhibited many more violent periods than the present. Relatively, violent crime in the U.S. is down, and the availability of uncensored public media in your pocket has provided both a way to express frustrations that if bottled up could be more harmful to society as a whole and as an early indicator to mental health authorities that an individual’s risk profile is approaching an unacceptable level. That is where the failure happened here and where we should direct our attention to be sure that our situation locally is not neglected.
I consider myself a conservative. That should not mean that any of us should be written out of “the club” for recognizing that efforts at the local and state level to preserve peace and security may require us to authorize local authorities to assist those who exhibit behavior that is headed toward creating a risk for society. At some point the humanitarian concern for the individual crosses a line to become concern for the safety of the community. At that point control would transfer from mental health officials to public safety, and voluntary must become mandatory.
As envisioned by our founders, the reach of the states into the lives of its citizens, where not in conflict with The Constitution, was open to the grant of additional authority by the people to provide services at the state level not contemplated to be the responsibility of the federal government. While “Romney Care” in Massachusetts may doom former Governor Romney’s chances to be President, it is exactly that sort of state based and restricted decision that may be appropriate at the state level but not by the federal government.
The relation by the states with its citizens was envisioned to be more intimate and in keeping with its citizens local and regional needs. Regrettably without a regeneration and expansion of the Tenth Amendment, we may have tipped too far towards national control to retrieve our intended balance. In this struggle, our communication revolution is a double edged sword. It may provide an early warning of impending health crisis for a distressed individual, but it also makes widely dispersed events “local” in a way that is expansionary on the federal government.
The “sovereign” in the title of our states has never been under greater pressure; In this regard we will know more following the decisions to be reached in the Fourth Circuit and The Supreme Court in the next two years regarding Obama Care as it proceeds through the courts. As I indicated in my last article, unless the Court is sensitive to the intended historical apportioning of governmental power and responsibility, it could make a dead letter of state’s rights.
Copyright © 2011 by Robert E. Freer, Jr. All rights reserved
About the author: Robert E. Freer, Jr., after an extensive career in government law and business, serves as the first BB&T Visiting Professor in Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel. A regular contributor to the Mercury, Prof. Freer may be reached at email@example.com. Copies of his earlier columns may be found at The Free Enterprise Foundation. A compilation of “classics” from his articles has just been published by University Press as Citadel Values II and can be found at Barnes and Noble and on Amazon.com
This article may be republished unedited in its entirety provided that copyright statement and author by-lines are kept intact and unchanged and hyperlinks and/or URLs provided by the author remain active.
Please sent any comments to Robert Freer, President of The Free Enterprise Foundation
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