Skip to main content

The Value of Free Expression

First, for the first time in my life I decided to leave my selection for president of the USA blank during the recent election for ethical reasons.  I believed that neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump deserved my vote.

Recently, Mr. Trump expressed his belief that the media is the enemy of the American people.  This statement prompted me to write this blog about the value of free expression in our country,

Why do we value of free expression?  John Locke, the philosophical founder of the American Revolution, believed it is the “natural right” of all citizens.  It is not a right granted by government.  It is a right granted by God. 

Positive theorists like John Milton believed that free expression contributes to the “social good”.  Our forefathers created the First Amendment to protect citizens against government control.  It guaranteed all citizens the right to criticize the government and prevented congress from making laws that abridge freedom of expression. 

Our First Amendment is intended to safeguard and protect individual self-governance in a free and democratic society.  Alexander Meiklejohn (1948) had it right about absolute protection for political speech. His believed that citizens rule in a democracy. Political discussions enable citizens to have access to information so they can make informed judgments (voting) on which a self-governing society is dependent.

Admittedly, constitutional protections of free expression are not absolute in this country.  There are numerous penalties that punish words that damage others such as defamatory statement (libel and slander), violation of copyright, false advertising, broadcast regulations, hate speech etc. 

I believe that free expression should be protected, yet there should be some limits in the form of penalties for certain types of words or actions that damage our national security and untrue words that hurt others’ reputations or violate private citizens’ privacy. 

The role of the press is at the forefront of the controversy about how much freedom is warranted to prevent social chaos.  The “diversity principle” supports the notion more perspectives are better than one. Government control of expression leads to tyranny and suppression of ideas that will hamper our ability to grow and develop as a nation.

The public principle is the “public’s right to know”.  This is why the media serves as a check on governmental institutions and people in positions of power who control budgets and policy. 

Even though the press sometimes errs in getting the complete true story, it is better than the alternative.  If not the media, then who will have the power to inform the people about governmental misconduct and abuse of power?  Need I remind you about the Gulf of Tonkin incident which was a lie that resulted in an escalation of our involvement in Viet Nam; or weapons of mass destruction that were never found but provided a rational for our government to invade Iraq?

Freedom of Expression is a primary value that must be upheld.  I agree with John Milton’s who described the value of free expression when he wrote Areopagitica in 1644. 

"Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple, who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?"

  In the end, we will be better off by supporting a free press and throwing off the shackles of government control.  The stakes are high when government attempts to control the message and those in power become corrupted by power (Richard Nixon).  We must be vigilant in our defense of liberty.  Liberty includes free expression. Attempts to thwart it must be challenged.

When Mr. Trump claims that the media is the enemy of the people, it is a fallacy.  Not all publishers are biased who provide false news and unsubstantiated claims. 

When it comes down to it, I agree with a distinguished conservative journalist from Joliet, Robert Novak who spoke at a University of St. Francis commencement ceremony.  He said, “Love your country, but don’t trust your government.”  Yes, healthy skepticism is a good thing.  Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.  The government doesn’t always tell the truth.  Only the media has the power and influence to serve as a check on government.  Support Free Expression!

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.