The most precious freedom we have is the freedom of speech. Without the freedom to speak our minds, all of our other liberties would be at risk. Without the freedom to speak our minds, society would stagnate.
But what many people don’t realize is that the freedom of speech carries along with it another, often overlooked freedom: the right to be wrong.
Freedom of speech means nothing if you’re saying something everyone agrees with. Freedom of speech is worthless if it’s only used to repeat things everyone already believes. The real test, the real value, is in using our freedom to challenge the status quo, to say things that are controversial. America was founded on the belied that we don’t need to be protected from controversy, and that we don’t need to be told what is true. We get to decide that for ourselves. Furthermore, the freedom of speech eliminates a different freedom: if we are free to speak, you are not free from being offended. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed.
When Glenn Beck says that President Obama is leading this nation down the same path as Nazi Germany, he’s being an ignorant ass. When Fred Phelps says that “god hates fags,” he’s being a hateful bigot. But we should all be thankful that they have the freedom to be hateful, ignorant bigots, because if they aren’t silenced, then we are still free to speak, too.
But not everyone agrees with this. Some people think we need to be protected from “dangerous” speech. Some claim that we aren’t fit to decide what is true and what is false. Some insist that they are the arbiters of what can and cannot be said.
When a Danish newspaper printed twelve cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, radical Muslims declared it an act of blasphemy. Three men were arrested for plotting the assassination of Kurt Westergaard, one of the artists whose cartoon was printed.
Muslim extremists believe they have the right to tell us what to say, and whom to depict – or not. The most radical back up this claim with threats of death. Maybe they’re right: maybe Muhammad is god’s prophet, and maybe I will go to hell for disrespecting him. But that’s between me and god. Even if they’re right, while I’m still on Earth, while I’m still an American, I still have the right to be wrong.
That’s why I’m taking part in Everybody Draw Muhammad Day. Not to offend, but to prove a point: our freedom is more important than your comfort.
Update: it looks like the original Facebook page has been removed. The new one is here.
Update the Second: There’s an official blog now.