Freedom of Expression

I was walking down the street the other day and I saw three White guys beating the heck out of a Black guy.  The Black guy was down on the ground and the three White guys were taking turns pummeling him.  I rushed up and yelled “Stop, what the heck do you guys think you are doing.”  One of the White guys answered “what does it look like, we are beating the shit out of a Black guy.”  “What did he do”, I asked.   “What do you mean what did he do?  “He was being Black” came back the reply.

“Are you guy’s crazy?  You can’t just beat someone up for being Black.”   I retorted.


The three guys huddled for a minute and finally one of the three (A guy with bright red hair and lots of tattoos) came out of the huddle and took me by the shoulder.  “Look he said, you look like a fairly intelligent guy.”  Two of my friends over there never went to college.  I went for a few years so they nominated me to talk to you. “

“What is there to talk about?  You have no right no beat up on this poor man”, I answered.

“Aahh, that is where you are wrong” said Tattoo Guy.  “We have every right.  In fact, we have a constitutional right to beat him up.”

“Are you serious or trying to kid me, I ask.”

“No I am not kidding” said Tattoo Guy, “I am very serious. It is our constitutional right.”

“OK,” I say, “I will bite, what is the right you think you have?”

“Well” says Tattoo Guy, “have you ever heard of ‘Freedom of Expression.’  The constitution struthays every American citizen has Freedom of Expression.  Thus, we are just expressing our free rights as American citizens to beat up on people we don’t like.”

“I am not sure that is what the Founding Fathers meant by Freedom of Expression”, I answer.

“Well, frankly we don’t give a fuck what you think.  Furthermore, if you keep interfering we might just sue you for violating our constitutional rights.”

“Hold on now.  I thought we were having a friendly conversation here.  Now you are threatening to sue me.  On what grounds?” I ask.

I could see Tattoo Guy thinking about my question for a while and then he answered “Well, since you are being so polite about it, we won’t sue you, at least not for now.”

“Wow, thanks” said I.

trump-and-pc“Look, said Tattoo Guy, we voted for Donald Trump and he respects our Freedom of Expression rights.  We are sick and tired of the PC shit you pussies and commies have been spreading in this country for years.  We are tired of watching what we say and do because we might be called rednecks or bigots or even racists.  It’s a new day for America.  We are going to make our country great again.”

“With Donald Trump as president, I can call anyone I want a nigger, kike, frog, wop, dago, spook, wetback, cunt, fag, pussy, greaser, Jap, slope.  It’s my Freedom of Expression” says Tattoo Guy.

“So basically you were sick and tired of having your Freedom of Expression curtailed by anti-hate laws and people who are sick of being insulted because of their color or sex” I asked?

freedom-of-expression“You are more or less on the right track” says Tattoo Guy.  “Used to be you could tell some nigger jokes, put up pinups of nude girls, even grab a few pussies once in a while and no one bothered you.  Then, all this PC stuff started and before you knew it, you had to watch what you said and did.  A White person’s Freedom of Expression went down the drain.  Well, no more PC now.  So can we please get back to beating the shit out of this nigger?”

“What about this man’s Freedom of Expression” I ask.  “Don’t you think he also has some rights?”

“Sure” says Tattoo Guy, “He can say whatever he thinks.  We don’t care.  Just as long as he doesn’t call us rednecks or bigots or racists.”

“That sounds like a double standard” I answer.

“I don’t think so.  You intellectuals think too much.  You need to do more and think less” says Tattoo Guy.

einstein“Well, what if I told you that I had a Glock Model 40 10mm in my pocket and that if you hit this man one more time, I will take it and blow your fucking brains out.  What would you think of that” I replied indignantly.

“That changes the entire nature of our issue here” says Tattoo Guy.  “We respect your Second Amendment rights to own and bear arms and use them in defense of your country and family.  May I ask if this Black Guy is part of your family?”

“Haven’t you ever heard of John Donne” I asks?  “Donne says”:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe

is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as

well as any manner of thy friends or of thine

own were; any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

“So you are sort of saying that this Black guy here is part of your extended family?” asks Tattoo Guy.

“Exactly,” I reply.


“Well, that’s a horse of a different color then.  If you are related to us because you are White and we are White and he is related to you, even if he is Black, then he is also related to us, which means he is part of our family too.  That’s great, now we have a new brother.  How about if we all go get a beer together?” says Tattoo Guy.

“Sounds like a better idea than beating each other up or my blowing your brains out.  Do you know any good brew pubs?  First round on me” I reply.

Time for Questions:

 Do you think all such stories as mine have a “happy” ending?  What rights do people have not to be insulted or harassed because of their color or sex?  Do you think some rights might supersede other rights?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

Freedom of speech does not include the right:

  • To incite actions that would harm others (e.g., “[Shouting] ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”).
    Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919).
  • To make or distribute obscene materials.
    Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 (1957).
  • To burn draft cards as an anti-war protest.
    United States v. O’Brien, 391 U.S. 367 (1968).
  • To permit students to print articles in a school newspaper over the objections of the school administration. 
    Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988).
  • Of students to make an obscene speech at a school-sponsored event.
    Bethel School District #43 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986).
  • Of students to advocate illegal drug use at a school-sponsored event.
    Morse v. Frederick, __ U.S. __ (2007).

Freedom of speech does includes the right:

  • Not to speak (specifically, the right not to salute the flag).
    West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943).
  • Of students to wear black armbands to school to protest a war (“Students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate.”).
    Tinker v. Des Moines, 393 U.S. 503 (1969).
  • To use certain offensive words and phrases to convey political messages.
    Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971).
  • To contribute money (under certain circumstances) to political campaigns.
    Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976).
  • To advertise commercial products and professional services (with some restrictions).
    Virginia Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Consumer Council, 425 U.S. 748 (1976); Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977).
  • To engage in symbolic speech, (e.g., burning the flag in protest).
    Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989); United States v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310 (1990).




To Care or Not To Care? That is the Real Question.

In 1979, I was hired by Sister M. Giovanni SSND of the School Sisters of Notre Dame to teach at Guadalupe Area Project (GAP).  This was an alternative high school for kids who had been kicked out of the public school system.  I had gone back to school in 1971 after four years in the military and decided to get a teaching degree in Health Education.  I had just barely finished High School in 1964 and joined the Air Force in September of 64.  I had applied to a few colleges at the end of high school but due to my poor grades and even poorer conduct record, I did not even get rejection notices.  Thus, liking the Air Force uniform better than the Army or Navy uniforms, I joined the Air Force, hoping to see the world, kill some commies and “meet” a lot of interesting women.  I did not get much of the first two agendas but I did prove more successful at the third one.  Lots more successful than I had been in high school!  Was it the uniform or that I was coming from a “strange” land?

Upon leaving the military, much more disillusioned than when I had entered, I worked an assortment of odd jobs for three years until finally my first wife convinced me to go to college. She evidently believed in me more than I believed in myself or was tired of my complaining about all the stupid assholes I was working for.  Going to college might sound easy but with my abysmal high school record, getting in was easier said than done.  Fortunately, a kindly guidance counselor at my old high school said he would tell anyone requesting my records that they had been lost.  He opined that admissions people seeing my school records would not think I was anything less than “correctional” material.  In fact, I had been arrested a few times before turning 18 but most of this was not valid any longer since they were juvenile records.

Five years later, 1976, I emerged from Rhode Island College with a degree in Health Education.  After spending a year as a substitute teacher, I lost most of my desire to teach.  With the GI Bill being extended, I decided to enroll in a Master’s Degree program at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Counseling Psychology.  Talk about the old adage of psych majors being screwed up.  I needed more counseling than any potential clients.  I started sending out applications for a job in counseling and received a letter from Sister M. Giovanni SSND that she was interested in my application.

I called Sister G (as she was affectionately known to one and all) and set-up an interview with her.  I was shocked and surprised when I found out that she was looking for a “teacher.” I explained that I was not interested in teaching but was interested in counseling.  Sister G. replied “Don’t worry; you will get lots of practice counseling with the students we have at GAP.”  I then said “Look Sister G. I am not a Catholic, I am an Atheist.”  She looked very serious at me and said: “I don’t care what your political or spiritual beliefs are as long as you are a good teacher.”  I was hooked.  I agreed to teach at GAP and stayed there for one year.

It was one of the most memorable experiences I have had in my life.  GAP teachers, volunteers, parents and students were all unique and dedicated. Maybe not all dedicated to learning but all dedicated to getting more out of life.  One of the best teachers was the art teacher named Sister Anna Louise Wilson.  She was a good teacher, devoted to her profession and devoted to her students.  One day after I had decided to leave, I took a short walk with Sister Anna.  I never quite felt that I had the impact or influence on the student’s lives that I would have liked to have.  I knew that Sister Anna did and I admired her for it.  I asked her “What does it take to really make a difference in their lives?”  She replied “you have to care.”

I thought about her comment then and I realized that I did not care.  I cared about the subjects I was teaching.  I cared about being professional.  I cared about continuous learning and I cared about mastering the craft of an educator.   What I did not care about was what happened to my students after they left school.  As far as I was concerned, that was their problem.  My task was to give them the knowledge, skills and abilities to fit in with a changing complex workplace.  Many years went by and countless times I have reflected on Sister Anna’s comment about caring.  I finally understand its relevance and importance.

Who makes a difference in anyone’s life? Do you care about the Nobel Prize winners, Pulitzer Prize winners or 20 greatest geniuses the world has ever known?  How many of them can you name?  But the people that cared about you are the ones you remember.  They are the ones who made a true difference in your life.  Caring is perhaps the most underrated and undervalued trait in the world.  Whether in politics, education or the workplace, the people that care are the ones that truly make a difference.  The concept is so important, you would think we would have academies of caring or schools where caring could be taught.  What does it mean to care?  Why care? What is caring?

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” — Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991);

When you care about something, you are taking a risk.  A risk that any expectations you have will not be returned.  A risk that the subject of your caring may not reciprocate.  A risk that your caring will result in disappointment or worse.  The subject of your caring is independent of your caring.  A hard reality is that caring opens the care giver to pain.  We would rather minimize the potential pains in our lives and so we develop some strict rules about whom we are willing to care for and when we are willing to care.  For instance, how often have you heard the phrase used “I couldn’t care less?”  Many of us have been burned once too often by “caring” and so we shrink our envelopes of caring until we have little potential to care.  I never saw a reason to care about my students because I was not really willing to risk the effort.  Even if I had realized that I needed to be more caring to make a difference in their lives, my self-protection envelope would have prevented me from trying.

Now I am older, sadder and perhaps wiser, or at least wise enough to understand the need for caring.  Whether in a nursing home, school, hospital or at work, caring is one of the most desired attributes we would like to obtain for ourselves.  The question is “how can we get more caring in this world, if we are not willing to give it?”  Everyone wants caring in their lives but we are much less prone to offer it to others.  The parable of the Good Samaritan comes repeatedly to my mind.

Time for Questions:

Who is our neighbor?  Who do we care about?  Do we only care about people who are just like us or do we care about those who belong to a different social class or religion or ethnic group or even another country?  Do we only care about our relatives and friends or do we extend our caring to strangers or others in need?  How do we develop more caring in our neighborhood and in our world?

Life is just beginning

%d bloggers like this: