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It’s Time to Stop Abusing the First Amendment

People hide behind it to spew hate and vulgarity. By all means, speak your mind, just do it with civility.

Rock and roll isn’t going to be the downfall of our society, the likes of Merrill Kidd, Rush Limbaugh, and Republican candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

I’m all for free speech, but I am sick and tired of people abusing the privilege that the First Amendment affords us. We’ve had three great examples of this recently.

First, we have the case of a member of the Manchester Board of Education, Merrill Kidd, sending another board member outrageous, rude and threatening emails. Here I am working with the school systems to educate children that this sort of behavior is completely unacceptable and we end up with elected officials role modeling the exact opposite of what we’re trying to promote. Are you serious?

Next we have Rush Limbaugh and his tirade against Sandra Fluke. Limbaugh is little more than a “shock jock,” and like most shock jocks, he has to keep upping the ante to keep his ratings up — which is, of course, his real agenda. At some point, these shock jocks end up going overboard and society finally steps in to slap them on the wrist. With Limbaugh, I think it’s too little, too late. But these guys tend to get away with it because they hide behind “free speech” to spew their hate and intolerance in the guise of legitimate commentary.

And finally, we have the sophomoric rhetoric of the Republican candidates. The trash talking of Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich is embarrassing to say the least. Are these guys really the best we can come up with? Are we OK with these guys stooping to this level all in the name of the all important sound bite? Is this the behavior we really want as representative of the United States?

What message are we sending out to our youth, and the entire society for that matter, when we accept through complacency rude, hateful and egregious behavior from adults in positions of power, whether they are elected officials, talk show hosts or presidential candidates?

As I said earlier, I do a lot of work in the school systems trying to stop bullying in all its forms. I have said all along that we need to take the focus off “bullying” specifically and make it more about developing a culture of respect, tolerance and good character. Bullying tends to disappear in a positive and empowering environment. Fortunately, the “anti-bullying movement” has started to make the much needed switch to the “civility movement.”

When I worked in corporate America and had many employees, they knew never to bring me a problem without a few possible solutions to go along with it. It serves no one to simply focus on the problem, progress is to be found in the solution. So here are a few ideas...

Merrill Kidd: There have been those who feel removing her from the Manchester school board is a bit excessive. I disagree. We need to make an example every time this type of behavior rears its ugly head. It’s time for our society to take a stand against incivility. What do you do with a child who demonstrates that they can’t play well with other children? You remove them and don’t allow them to play with other children until they demonstrate that they can "play nice." The mere fact that Ms. Kidd won’t step down from her elected office demonstrates that she doesn’t see much wrong with her behavior. She is not someone I want setting policy for our school systems. She might have some good ideas, but I’m sure there are plenty of other people out there with good ideas who can promote them with civility.

Rush Limbaugh: People are calling for the Republicans to denounce what he said. I don’t think that goes nearly far enough. Every group in the United States should denounce his behavior — Republicans, Democrats and every other group out there. Every group that strives to make this country a better place. A more tolerant country. A more peaceful country. After all, we’re all at risk if this behavior goes unchecked. I am proud of the sponsors that have pulled out of Rush’s show, but I want to ask, “What took you so long?” This is not the first time he has stepped way over the line. He has made his career by stepping over the line. He could get his views across without trash talking the people he disagrees with. Keep hitting him and his radio stations where it hurts — their pocket books.

The Republican 3: I’ve heard people in the media say that once the Republican nomination process is over, whoever wins the nomination is then going to go after the president in exactly the same way that Romney, Santorum and Gingrich have gone after each other. Forget their ideology, do we really want such as these representing us as elected officials? The election process of our highest officials doesn’t have to turn into a mud-slinging spectacle. We could use a bit of true leadership from our supposed leaders. And if our media would stop focusing on the latest trash talk, the candidates would have to go back to offering brilliant and innovative solutions to our nations problems to get their next “sound bite” (read that as "air time").  If I want trash talking, I’ll watch a soap opera.

For the betterment of our society, we need to take a stand against incivility in all its forms. A lack of basic civility is the real issue. When you make the discussion about abortion, gay rights, racism, or whatever, people on opposite sides of these issues use their values and beliefs to justify egregious behaviors, even when their supposed values and beliefs generally speak against such behaviors. These issues aren’t the problem, they are symptoms of the problem. Being civil has nothing to do with a person's values or beliefs, it has to do with a person’s character.

I’m not talking about what you say, but how you say it. The First Amendment gives us the right to speak our minds. Unfortunately, it doesn’t say anything about how we should be voicing our opinions. Perhaps the Founding Fathers thought that this was obvious, so they didn’t bother to mention it in the Constitution. So let’s fill in that hole. Let’s promote, indeed require, basic civility when dealing with each other. What if, as a society, we make a decision to make civility a priority? This needs to be the first domino. All the rest would quickly follow once this one is taken care of.

One final note, before I get a ton of comments arguing political points and value/belief systems, please re-read the column and understand the point of it. Don’t give in to the knee-jerk reaction of needing to argue about your favorite hot topics when they were simply used as examples as part of this discussion.

Maria Giannuzzi March 16, 2012 at 11:47 PM
It's too bad your philosophy of charity did not work during the Gilded Age, and during the first four decades of the 20th century. There were many good people and organizations during these periods who tried to help, but the need was so overwhelming that charity could only meet a small part of the need. And of course, human nature being what it is, there were many selfish and unempathetic individuals who were completely oblivious to the poor and sick or benefitted economically from their plight. Tricia, re paragraph four, I think you have me mixed up with someone else.
Tricia G. March 17, 2012 at 12:25 AM
Maria, please look in the mirror and say "I am a Marxist, who cares more for "progressive" dogma and unlimited government than the U.S. Constitution," because that is what you indeed are, if your comments on Patch accurately represent your views. I'm sorry to have to get so blunt with you, Maria--and I am probably still wasting my time with you, because: "He who is convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." You will no doubt blast me for some other reason as you you go on "LA LA LA, I can't hear you" whenever someone disproves your faulty logic or knowledge of history, economics, etc. but you are very WRONG about your assumptions about me and other conservatives!! And I don't write this to be prideful myself, but you exhibit your arrogant prejudice when you write: "I don't remember you or some of your fellow believers ever using the words compassion or empathy in any other post." I now know no other way to get through to you than by this: In 2010, my husband and I donated 25 % of his NET earnings to CHARITIES. The dollar amount we donated constituted 18.4 % of the gross before taxes income.
000 March 17, 2012 at 01:26 AM
The article was about the first amendment. The post is entitled "It’s Time to Stop Abusing the First Amendment, People hide behind it to spew hate and vulgarity. By all means, speak your mind, just do it with civility." 99% of the comments have nothing to do with the topic. But then again, maybe this is a good thing. "Abusing the First Amendment." Who is for "abusing anything? And what is "abusing the First Amendment?" There is NO SUCH THING! There can't be. And then the author says "civil" speech is ok. Who's the judge? The ONLY speech that is bad is speech that threatens harm or defrauds, in other words, speech that takes away the rights of others to be free. Bottom line. The first Amendment doesn't exist to protect "civil" or popular speech. It exists to protect the unpopular or even vulgar. Popular and pleasant speech needs no protection. In fact, the idea behind the whole bill of rights is PROTECTION OF THE MINORITY AND UNPOPULAR. The author shows no understanding of liberty and individual rights, as do many of the posters who blab on and on about topics having nothing to do with the post. Yes, I wasn't civil, so what? THAT'S freedom of speech!
Tricia March 17, 2012 at 02:05 AM
Tricia G's proclamations about personal circumstances are not to be believed since he/she is anonymous. No one who is anonymous can make any point based on a statement of personal behavior. Since Tricia is so very fond of quotations, she'd really benefit from taking a lesson from this one: 'Let us, on both sides, lay aside all arrogance. Let us not, on either side, claim that we have already discovered the truth. Let us seek it together as something which is known to neither of us. For then only may we seek it, lovingly and tranquilly, if there be no bold presumption that it is already discovered and possessed.' - St. Augustine
Megan Bard March 17, 2012 at 02:22 AM
Thank you for your participation in this discussion, but it's time to bring this thread to a close. Best, Megan

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