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There is widespread agreement in the United States that individuals have a right to speak their mind. Some extend that right to being defiant, staging a protest, or expressing civil disobedience in whatever form deemed necessary.

But no matter how far a person takes it, there is, at the very least, a legal right to speak freely or to express a sentiment.

It's called the First Amendment, and it should be appreciated and cherished. But it should not be abused.

It is unfortunate, but it seems there are literally millions of people who speak of the First Amendment today who likely do not understand the intention behind it.

Nor do they understand how to utilize it respectfully and responsibly.

Some do not understand that when Person A says or does whatever he or she wants in the name of the First Amendment, that Persons B, C, D, E and F are free to conclude whatever they want about Person A.

B, C, D, E or F may decide that person A is a lunatic, or a trouble-maker, or a hateful individual.

No, the truth is a person does indeed have the right to say what he wants. But he needs to have the intelligence to know when to abstain from saying it.

Freedom of speech coupled with stupidity can cause problems. Freedom of speech coupled with an inconsiderate demeanor can cause problems as well. And so can freedom of speech coupled with hatred or disrespect.

It may bring about problems for the speaker, or it may bring about problems for those who have to endure the reckless discourse.

To put it another way, we really don't need more free speech. We need more judicious use of free speech.

One time a teacher (and I'll not say who and I'll not say where) contacted a school board member and said the principal of the school was abusing funds and that the books were in disarray. The teacher suggested that the board member come and look through the administrator's office while she was gone. Therein, the teacher said, would be the evidence of impropriety.

Well, I'm not sure who was the most toxic individual on the campus -- the teacher who fabricated some information to try to call the dogs out against her supervisor -- or the board member who was a willing dupe and went and pilfered through the principal's office.

When the teacher in this story was confronted about the issue and was asked why she told the board member that funds were being mishandled, she simply replied, "I was just using my First Amendment rights in saying what I did."

The conversation continued, with her supervisors trying to explain to her the concept of loyalty and that certain concerns must go through certain channels.

But the self-appointed champion of the First Amendment remained adamant that her quest was justified and perfectly within the parameters of acceptable conduct. (Never mind the fact that there was no misappropriation of funds; nor any evidence of foul play).

The supervisors tried to explain that her actions are grounds for dismissal in most places of work. But all of the discussion was fruitless.

My guess is that the teacher in question is convinced, to this very day, that she was doing the right thing, even though most people would consider her actions to be underhanded, dishonest or insubordinate.

The point here is twofold. First, the United States is a wonderful country, and one of the reasons is because of the freedoms enumerated in the First Amendment. Secondly, not everyone who cites the First Amendment is on a noble crusade. Some of them, quite frankly, can be poisonous to a free society.

So while every single one of us has freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, freedom of the press, the right to petition, and freedom of religion, it's never right to use our freedoms to badger, bludgeon, harass, slander or offend our fellow citizens.

Some things are right and some things aren't. And as long as we have people who don't know the difference, we will run into issues that have the potential to create turmoil.

But even with those potential pitfalls, I'll sign up to live in a free republic every time.

Our country is great because every person -- even the misguided, the disrespectful, the most disgruntled and the most toxic -- can speak out.

And in the spirit of freedom, we should sort through the various voices and determine what is good and honest and just. And then we can go forward from there.

• • •

David Wilson, Ed.D., of Springdale, is a former high school principal and is the communications director for the Transit and Parking Department at the University of Arkansas. He has other articles online at He can be contacted by email at Opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 09/12/2018

Print Headline: Abuse of the First Amendment is unfortunate

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