For many, this is a day when families and friends gather around the dinner table for a meal that is as much about socializing as it is about eating. It is during this time that some will pause and invite each person to mention a gift for which he or she is thankful.
We wonder how often that freedom of speech is cited as an object of that gratitude. We suspect that it is not often.
Why is that? Well, for Americans, freedom of speech is like air. It’s just always been there, and we assume that it always will be. It is a given, rather than a gift.
If, however, one were to be instantly sucked into the vacuum of space, air likely would become a suddenly valued commodity.
Likewise, if America were to become a nation in which the government were to tell those it governs what their opinions are, and would forbid them from questioning the actions of those in power, the life of the nation’s citizens would be sucked out of them, as surely as if they accidentally opened a hatch on the International Space Station.
Thankfully, the presence of air on Planet Earth is not in danger. But, thanks to the burning of fossil fuels or the presence of second-hand smoke, the quality of the air we breathe can be compromised.
Again, we liken this to freedom of speech. Although it may not be going away anytime soon, it is frequently compromised.
For some, freedom of speech has come to mean freedom from offense — you are free to express your opinion, as long as I agree with you. If you take an opposite viewpoint, it is hate speech, and should be silenced.
For others, freedom of speech is something that should be sacrificed under the guise of safety or security. And there may be occasions when this is true. However, when explanations are withheld, conspiracy theories and suspicion flourish, and an action taken in the name of unity sows division instead.
Still, even division can be healthy when handled as opportunity, rather than opposition. We’re talking about more than just agreeing to disagree. It is a chance for voices to merge into reasoned discussion, rather than impassioned rhetoric, to find common ground that benefits all. Too often, political correctness and zero tolerance for disagreement rob us of that chance to demonstrate why democracy really is better than any other form for government.
So today, when you’re considering all the blessings from which you benefit, give a nod to the First Amendment. But don’t just acknowledge it — practice it. After all, you don’t plan to just admire that beautifully prepared turkey sitting in the middle of the table — you’re going to consume it, and use the nutrition it offers to strengthen yourself (well, OK; maybe after a nap).
As a newspaper, we give thanks for freedom of speech and all its cousins: freedom of the press, freedom of religion, the right to assemble and the right to present grievances to the government.
And we wish you the happiest of Thanksgiving Days.