Over the course of the past few months I’ve seen a lot of people (on both sides of whatever fence you decide to put up) discuss how offended they are by someone exercising their rights in one way or another. I’ll go ahead and state that there are a lot of things people do that I disagree with, but I’ll also unequivocally state that I’m incredibly grateful that we live in a country where people can exercise those rights, and do so in controversial fashion. It’s important to realize that the First Amendment wasn’t written to protect agreeable or incontrovertible topics – those don’t need protecting. It’s equally important to note the First Amendment’s place in the Bill of Rights for several reasons.
First, nothing in the Bill of Rights was included in the original Constitution because the original framers considered everything in the original ten amendments to be the kind of things that go without saying. They also didn’t write “eat if you get hungry” and “don’t forget to breathe” because, well… they figured you’d know what to do. However, after realizing that some things were so important they needed to be explicitly clarified, they wrote the Bill of Rights.
And the very first thing to be explicitly protected were controversial expressions of religion, speech, press, peaceful assembly, and criticizing the government – i.e., pretty much blanket covering everything people like to get offended by.
Most majority Muslim countries have blasphemy laws protecting only or mainly Islam. In Pakistan, article 295 of the penal code stipulates that “derogatory remarks” about the prophet Muhammad “by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly” shall be punishable by death. One woman, Aasia Bibi, was actually sentenced to death under this article. In a number of Muslim countries, such protections are included in the terms and conditions of internet service providers.
Christians love to point out how backwards these laws are, but then we see something like this: In Britain, a blasphemy law that protected Christianity alone was repealed only in 2008. In South Carolina it’s illegal to perform work on Sunday. Thankfully, there’s an exception in there (only for Charleston County, though) for folks who believe the true Sabbath is on Saturday – they can apply the law towards that day of the week. In California, animals are prohibited from mating within 1,500 feet of a place of worship. Last year a lawmaker in Montana tried to pass a law that would make it illegal (punishable by prison time) to wear yoga pants in public).
No religious group or political party has a corner on idiocy. Yes, the exercise of freedom can be offensive – but that’s the point of freedom. Freedom should not be inhibited unless it actually impedes upon the rights of others; until it reaches that point, it’s completely legitimate and should be (and is, here) protected.
This was the approximate conversation between me and a buddy when I first heard about the whole Colin Kaepernick issue:
Him: “Dude, did you hear what Colin Kaepernick did??”
Me: “Who’s Colin Kaepernick?”
Him: “He’s a quarterback for the 49ers. He refused to stand for the national anthem!!”
Him: “What do you mean, ‘Oh’? You’re a veteran! You’re patriotic! Doesn’t this offend you??”
Him: “Why not???”
Me: “Because literally nothing Mr. Pumpernickel does affects me at all. I didn’t even know who he was until two seconds ago.”
Him: “But he did it because he says blacks are oppressed in America!”
Me: “OK. That makes him an idiot. I still don’t really care.”
And that was pretty much the end of the discussion. What one entitled black person in a league comprised of 68% black people who makes hundreds of millions of dollars believes doesn’t concern me in the least. I disagree with him. I think he’s wrong. I think he’s a moron engaging in attention-seeking behavior.
And that’s the point. Being okay with people doing offensive things that don’t affect your rights is required to be free.
Stephen Covey, in his book 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, wrote about two circles: a circle of concern, and a circle of influence. One of the things he noted about successful people who were generally happy in life is that their circle of concern (i.e., all of the things they cared about and allowed to affect their happiness) generally approximated their circle of influence (i.e., the things they could directly affect). People who are frustrated and unhappy are constantly offended by people and issues far beyond their circle of influence.
If you can be okay with other people acting in an offensive way, as long as it doesn’t actually impede anyone else’s rights (and the right to not be offended doesn’t exist, BTW), then you can truly participate in this wonderful thing we have freedom. If you can’t be okay with that, then realize that you’re no different than the people on the opposite side of whatever issue you’ve chosen who want to create a safe space by banning you – there’s no different between the two parties.
Be offended. It’ll be okay.