Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Rights and Responsibilities

With the terrorist attack against the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in France, the issue of “rights” has come up, especially the right of free speech and freedom of the press. These are enshrined in the Bill of Rights in our Constitution, a remarkable document at the time it was written. Let me point out a few things about rights and the responsibilities that go with them:

(1) We should keep in mind that no right is absolute, including speech and press. Using your right of free speech to slander someone is illegal and may result in a lawsuit. It is wrong to falsely yell “fire” in a crowded theater. Governments can control some rights in the interest of public order, such as requiring a permit to assemble.

(2) In our Bill of Rights, free speech and freedom of the press are not necessarily “blanket” rights with no restrictions whatsoever. Their main purpose was to permit criticism of the government without fear of reprisal. Unfortunately these rights have been invoked for things the writers of the Constitution never envisioned, such as pornography and flag burning.

(3) Just because something is a right doesn’t make it right. What I mean is that something may be allowed by law but it might be immoral or unethical according to the Judeo-Christian tradition which informs much of our moral code (or at least used to).

(4) Publishing a newspaper, magazine, or even a blog comes with the responsibility to tell the truth, not to plagiarize, check your facts, and not insult or make fun of anyone because of their race, color, nationality, religion, or any other aspects of their lives.

Responsibility and good taste should be used when exercising any of your rights.

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