Free to speak?

As we celebrate our American freedoms on this date, we should remind ourselves to embrace the freedoms we claim to be so fundamental to our national character and dear to our hearts. In times of bitter political posturing we’re tempted to be less tolerant of the voices of opposition.

We don’t have to like the political views we hear, whether they originate in the national media or local coffee shop. But freedom of speech means these people have the right to voice them.

It also means we are free to voice our disagreement with them—and even better, engage them in respectful dialogue rather than putdowns and intimidation. Unfortunately the latter is a rare commodity these days, thanks in large part to the Wild West of social media which faces few constraints and less accountability. Unfortunately, not even from our commander in chief models civil discourse.

The approach of French philosopher Voltaire in the 18th century should be the creed for every freedom-cherishing American today: “I disapprove of what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” To that we add: And I vow to temper my response with words that challenge a position, not denigrate the speaker.

Anything less is hypocrisy. —DR