Our right to question authority
July 7, 2010
This past Friday, July 2, I was asked to participate in a discussion which I believed, if it were to go as planned, would result in my having to confront some painful memories.
The guest speaker was Gilad Atzmon, a philosopher, musician and political activist who holds controversial views on the state of Israel. I was there to represent my responsibilities as a member of the media and an educator. The decision to help enable this conversation, the very existence of which would bring discomfort to myself and others, was one which, in principle, I had made many years ago.
The principles which underlie the arguments for establishing, and protecting, not only freedom of speech, but the mechanisms by which speech, particularly minority speech, can be substantively delivered are guaranteed in our Constitution and thoroughly debated in the Federalist and anti-Federalist papers, both of which form the core arguments surrounding our Constitution’s creation. Federalist Papers numbers 10 and 51 are the most famous and instructive.
On July 3, I read an op-ed in The Aspen Times entitled, “Our rights of self-governance denied,” by Marilyn Marks.
The article contained many disturbing assertions about which I am insufficiently informed to comment credibly upon. The article did pose a serious question, although not specifically stated, that demands the thoughtful attention of us all: Is it not the right of any citizen to question authority, or majority opinion, without fear of retribution or intimidation of a type which diminishes that right?
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On July 4, I and many other Americans celebrated our independence. It is an appropriate time to remember just what we, as Americans, on July 4, 1776, declared our independence from.
John Stuart Mill, 1806-1873, writing in support of the most precious concepts presented in the Bill of Rights, articulated his case most eloquently in “On Liberty,” available free on Google Books. In it, Mill argues that even the most outrageous or offensive opinions have value, by forcing us to constantly re-examine beliefs, many of which, over time, are replaced by truths previously believed to be heretical.
“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” – John Stuart Mill
The history, motivations or status of the author should bear no consequence on our support of her right to ask the questions raised in this op-ed.
The idiom “freedom is not free” implicitly states that the freedoms we enjoy are only possible through the voluntary risks taken and sacrifices made by our military. The Fourth of July is a good time to remind ourselves that a vigilant citizenry, one willing to also take risks and make sacrifices, is as equally important to ensuring the freedoms our ancestors and soldiers have died for to establish and maintain.