Core decorum: The freedom of speech

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The leading men of America, 229 years ago last Saturday, signed what would become the longest standing written ode to law – the Constitution of the United States of America. The country celebrated, and our little community here at the University of Dallas celebrated with food, beer and patriotic cheer.

Between the arcane phrases too little read by contemporary citizens and the flippancy of our festivity lies a theme integral to the health of our nation and to the stamina of our university. That theme is written into the spirit of the Constitution and made explicit in the First Amendment; that theme is freedom of speech.

Perhaps the philosophical prejudices of the average UD student would favor an interrogation into the meanings of “freedom” and “speech.” The common law of U.S. history has posed those same questions in cases such as Whitney v. California and Texas v. Johnson.  To illustrate concretely the meaning of these terms, I would point the reader to a social construct of bricks — the UD Mall.

Observe the Mall at any time, and even at its sparsest hours you will find at least a congregation of smokers gathering around the tables outside of Haggar. The conversations lingering between them will range from idle gossip to the latest rugby news. At its busiest, the hum of the Mall will include scores of personal conversations, the melodies of pop music and indie folk, theological and philosophical banter, political commentary, the latest university happenstances, etc. In every instance of noise, the speech of the Mall is free.

This speech is free because it belongs to free individuals mingling in public. That is not to say that speech cannot be free in private, but it is only to say that it is freest in the open air. There, fear of censure does not restrain the tongue.

Only the good conscience of the speaker limits speech. Precisely that — good conscience — makes free speech Speech Proper.

Anonymity, of course, has its uses. There is a certain rhetorical effect achieved in publishing the many “Federalist Papers” under the name Publius. So too, there is an aura established in withholding the name of the present author, as if the spirit of UD itself were writing the Core Decorum.

In these cases, anonymity is a prop, not a barricade. Indeed, a message to the editor would be sufficient to discover this author; likewise, John Jay, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton were certainly not shy in preaching the sentiments of the “Federalist Papers” in public.

True Speech, then, invites a dialogue. Speech has ears as well as a mouth. Speech will receive the criticism of others as an opportunity for further thought, further exchange.

“Speak only the good things men need to hear, things that will really help them,” Paul said.

Speech cares for the well-being of its listener and for the well-being of all concerned. Free Speech openly operates in the light of day on the bricks of a sunny Mall.

 

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