This week contains the anniversary of the day in 1776 when the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence in separation from England, the most powerful empire of the day. The determination of the newly named United States of America to be free from oppression and extortion is well known, although there are some subtleties to the story that I would like to relay in light of the forthcoming holiday. Pun intended.
With the increasing literacy of the artisan classes, the ability to write pamphlets and letters was instrumental to the airing of grievances against England and rallying the colonists to fight for independence. In fact, one could look at Thomas Paine’s series of pamphlets, the most well known being the “Rights of Man,” to be one of the very first public relations campaigns.
The founders called America “the great experiment” because it would be the first time in history that a nation was founded on the principles of the Enlightenment: free expression and unfettered inquiry.
I am a soldier and have friends that have given their lives in defense of the principles mentioned above. There is a certain group that pickets the funerals of soldiers, making notoriety for themselves and sometimes money through lawsuits when they feel their First Amendment rights have been violated.
These individuals, with their nasty messages, use the First Amendment to attack people who protect their very right to dissent. I find their slogans to be much more than unsettling, but it makes me glad that they are not arrested for what they say. Every time I see their placards on the news, it is evidence that we live in a free society.
It is the non-existence of a legal “do not cross” line that makes me know I’m safe to speak my mind. The freedom of someone to express his or her opinion about controversial topics is the absolute most essential thing to a free society. When there are limits on statements of opinion and self-expression, there is a certain danger of those limits being applied inconsistently and eventually abused.
There is no one who is qualified to determine what you should be allowed to hear or consider. By denying someone the right to express themselves, you are also denying yourself the opportunity to be exposed to new information and arguments. Always remember, if you ever find yourself in favor of putting bars on free speech: only time will tell which side of the cage you were on when the bars seemed necessary.
Therefore, it makes me extremely happy to find myself working with so many people who give their time to write books to inform and persuade people on a wide range of subjects. From topics as innocuous as pet-care to very controversial arguments about religion and politics, I am extremely proud to live in a country where I can not only make a living helping authors get their messages out, but also improve and enrich my life when learning from their points of view.