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Our Editorial: Giving thanks for free speech

The Detroit News

Sometimes it seems as if the entire nation is playing tug-of-war with the First Amendment. Over the course of this most challenging year, the protector of free speech has been pulled to the point of tearing, twisted to serve partisan agendas, dragged through the political mire, violated and humiliated.

On college campuses, the free exchange of ideas is increasingly seen as a sinister plot to menace the security and well-being of students. Safe spaces are carved out to shield the fragile from contrary opinions, lest such exposure tortures their psyches and arrests their development.

From the top levels of our government come the constant shrieks of “Fake News!” designed to silence the watchdogs. Confidence in the media is at an all time low in an era when the institutions of our society need never-blinking watchfulness. The words “mainstream media” have become a pejorative to imply a built-in bias by our once trusted news sources.

Some who’ve historically been the fiercest defenders of free speech are questioning whether some speech is unworthy of protection. Talk is rising of restrictions on offensive expressions and penalties for those who fail to fall lockstep in line on issues such as climate change and race.

Even one of our most sacred rituals, professional football, is under attack for the way some players choose to demonstrate their frustrations.

Yet the First Amendment remains in one piece, surviving to assure the vigorous discourse and passionate dissent so vital to a democracy continue to offer the hope that we can resolve our differences and move forward as a more united people.

And that’s what we are grateful for on this Thanksgiving Day.

Realizing that such a fundamental right has been under attack over the course of the year makes us appreciate the First Amendment all the more, and redoubles our commitment to its preservation.

The amendment’s vitality rests greatly on the recognition that having the freedom to speak also comes with a responsibility to listen. That’s what we seem to have forgotten.

Too many in our country want only their opinions validated, with no concern that the views of others are being shouted down.

The Founders didn’t craft the First Amendment to make the citizenry feel comfortable; the intent was for free speech to challenge the established norms, to provide a forum for vetting ideas, to keep dissent in the sunshine and not drive it underground to fester.

It is certainly serving that purpose today — there is a healthy amount of speaking going on, and the compulsion to offer an opinion has rarely been greater.

While civil discourse is preferred, all conversation doesn’t have to be polite. A lot of people are angry, for a lot of different reasons. Expressing those powerful emotions can be healthy and helpful.

As can honestly weighing the reasons others are discontented.

Freedom of speech is what makes democracy so messy, and often so contentious. And it’s what allows it to endure. Let’s all be thankful for and protective of that today.