Tuesday, February 08, 2005

What about "Free Hearing" Rights?

When I sit down in front of the TV, if I don't like what I see, I get to change the channel or, heaven forbid, turn the TV off! If I turn the radio on in the car while I drive home from work, and I don't like what I hear, I get to change the channel, or turn the radio off!

Now, let me paint a little different scenario. I went out for lunch today, dished up a wonderful plate full of broiled fish and Dim Sum, and sat down to eat. No sooner had I taken a bite, when a rather loud female customer a few tables over spewed out a string of explitives enough to make a construction worker blush. All right, it wasn't quite that bad, but it was nonetheless very foul. She wasn't angry with anyone, it just appeared to be her normal manner of speech.

What were my choices? I wasn't about to "change the channel" and go to the restaurant next door. I couldn't very well shut it off. If I were to ask the lady, however politely, I surmise her response would be another string of four letter words, followed by something along the lines of "free speech!".

But what about my rights? Do I not have the right to sit in a public setting and be free from such foulness? Do I have a "freedom of hearing" right spelled out anywhere?

Freedom of speech, as my good wife so readily points out, was intended not for the public in general, but for political speech and freedom from tyranny and oppression by an over-bearing government when speaking out against them, whether in the press or in private.

So how do we elevate society back to some standard of decency in public settings? Can we, even if we wanted to, restore some measure of public decorum- public settings where the last thing we have to worry about are ourselves and our children being subject the foul rantings of a classless society?

You tell me...

3 Comments:

Blogger annegb said...

kelly, I registered, I thought, but it didn't work. I told you I am a moron.

I find myself more bothered by coarse language as I get older. I grew up in a cussing household, I remember at the age of 8 praying to Jesus, asking Him to help me stop cussing. You know, He never did.

But all in all, I think I'd rather endure my neighbor's obscenities than get rigid about speech. I think ignoring things like that is better than legislating.

9:39 AM  
Blogger Jordan said...

Kelly- the answer, unfortunately, is NO. Perhaps you should have that right, but the Supreme Court has other ideas.

In 1971, the Court heard and decided a case where a young man wore an offensive coat in a public courthouse that exclaimed, in loud written words on the back, "F*** THE DRAFT!" (He was convicted under California law that prohibited “maliciously and willfully disturbing the peace or quiet of any neighborhood or person by offensive conduct.”- it was called Cohen v. California.)

The Supreme Court overturned this conviction, stating that people could just "avert their eyes." There was a lot of empty rhetoric in that opinion speaking for the rights of the man to wear that offensive jacket even though other people had to see it:

“That the air may at times seem filled w/ verbal cacophony is … not a sign of weakness but of strength…. [O]ne man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric…. [W]ords are often chosen as much for their emotive as their cognitive force.”

The bottom line was that the Court saw a potential slippery slope. If California were to excise one particular scurrilous epithet from the public discourse on grounds of inherent likelihood to cause violent reaction or as a general guardian of public morality, then where would its power stop? The Court worried that forbidding particular words would pose too high a risk of suppressing IDEAS in the process. They worried that banning certain words might be a smokescreen to banning certain ideas.

Now, that sounds bad: We protect the right of some punk to wear an obscene jacket in the courthouse, but we don't protect the rights of people who don't want to see that sort of thing?!? But imagine if we weren't allowed to say things in public that might offend. For one thing, missionary work might be severely curtailed- many of the decisions in the direct line of cases leading up to the Cohen decision dealt with Jehovah's Witnesses who were convicted under similar statutes for preaching what they believe to be the gospel.

The way I see it, it's sort of a quid pro quo. We are allowed to preach our form of salvation even though some find it patently offensive, and punks like Cohen get to wear obscene jackets. One is the cost of the other, in my opinion.

We just have to live with the fact that one of the costs of "free speech" is that once in a while all of us will experience something that offends us personally. And I understand that not everyone agrees with this idea. There were several justices on the Supreme Court who disagreed.

10:06 PM  
Blogger Chris Young said...

I'd have to guess that if you had Tabernacle Choir turned up good and loud, the PD woulda had you turn it down. Seems that evil is protected (even in public) but God is not.

Christopher Young
www.chrisyoungsshop.com

11:14 AM  

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