In America, we take our freedom for granted, but we cherish our rights. Not only is that wrongheaded, but it’s dangerous thinking.
The Constitution’s “Bill of Rights” actually confers no rights to Americans. It does, however, safeguard freedoms and rights we naturally possess. This is what makes America different from, say, Europe, where rights are derived from the government and granted to the people.
Confusing freedom with rights leads to opinions like what the Brookings Institute found on campuses, where 51 percent believe that violence and shouting are acceptable methods to prevent people from exercising free speech. That ignorance leads 71 percent of Americans to believe that political correctness has caused them to fear sharing their political views (Cato Institute).
Not only is believing that free speech is a government-granted right that can be suspended for certain classes of speech counter to our Constitution, it’s really un-American in the sense that America can’t survive without citizens protecting our freedoms from the government.
French President Emanuel Macron said “We will…be creating an offense which will give the police the right to issue fines if there is a verbal attack on a woman.”
“Let’s seal a pact of equality between men and women,” Macron said, adding that when it comes to sexual harassment and assault, “it is essential that shame changes camp.”
In America, shame is a powerful social tool. But the government cannot criminalize an insult. If there’s a verbal threat of violence, yes, that can be prosecuted (“terroristic threat” laws are on the books in most jurisdictions). However, the insult itself cannot be a crime, because the government must not abridge (restrict) the rights of citizens to have free speech.
First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
All over the world, governments have the power to criminalize certain speech. In Thailand, insulting the king is a serious crime. In England or Canada, preaching certain parts of the Bible (that deal with homosexuality as a sin) is criminal. And in France, it will soon be a crime to say unsavory things to women. Not here.
We should, by all means, pursue the high road and call out cads who verbally abuse women. We should expel, purge, fire, and shun men who do not know how to be gentlemen in the presence of a lady, in the workplace, at home, at school, and in social settings. We should protect women from physical, sexual, or workplace assaults from men.
But we must not criminalize insults, because we are free people—free to insult and to be insulted. We are free to hold unpopular, unappealing, or even repulsive views. We are free to believe in racism, religious inferiority or superiority, or witchcraft for that matter.
We are not free to take certain actions in accord with those beliefs if those beliefs harm others or act against civil order (religious freedom is also sacrosanct, but that’s a whole different subject). For example, a man can believe that women don’t deserve to vote or own property, but he can’t prevent them from voting or buying property.
In France, it might be a crime to call a woman ugly, or tell her she’s worthless, or fat, or sexually appealing in a crude way. Here, we are free to say as we please. This right is ours and the government cannot abridge it. It’s not a right granted by the government, like it is in France.
When we stop recognizing our freedoms for what they are (and we’re doing that right now), and start treating them as rights positively granted by the government, we are in terrible danger of unraveling America. Without our freedoms, our republic simply doesn’t work.
The founders knew this. They feared the day when it would happen. Regardless of what Macron does in France, or how bad our “Pervnado” gets, we can’t criminalize insults. Crossing that bright line will inevitably lead to the destruction of all our freedoms, and likely the end of our republic as we know it.