Offensive Language Is Unacceptable, Despite Freedom Of Speech

By: Sarah Brill  |  September 30, 2020
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By Sarah Brill, Science and Technology Editor 

There are just some things that should not be said. When a person views the concept of “Freedom of Speech” they have two options: they can either interpret that phrase literally and say who knows what to whomever they want, or they can restrain themselves and instead have an honest and adult conversation with the person to whom they might have wished to say those choice things. 

Let us take the “R” word for a moment. A word that has been around for centuries describing those who have disabilities. This word is very offensive to a large group of people for one reason: it implies something that they are not. The “R” word, or “Retard” by its noun definition means “a person who has a mental disability (often used as a general term of abuse).”As of 2010, “President Barack Obama … replace[d] the term ‘mental retardation’ with ‘intellectual disability’ in many areas of government. The measure known as Rosa’s Law was approved unanimously by Congress … ” So even if a person in the United States has the ability to speak the “R” word, does that mean that they should do so? no. It is abusive and bordering on harassment and the United States government recognized that in 2010. 

Most offensive language aims at singling out a group of people to gain the upper hand. In the case of the “R” word, it classifies a group of people under one overarching umbrella and eliminates the person’s individuality. “‘The word retard is considered hate speech because it offends people with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as the people that care for and support them. It alienates and excludes them. It also emphasizes the negative stereotypes surrounding people with intellectual and developmental disabilities; the common belief that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities should be segregated, hidden away from society, which, in my opinion, is really old fashioned,’ stated Karleigh Jones, Special Olympics New Zealand athlete.” 

In the same sense, you would not want to walk down the street and hear someone call out behind you an offensive Jewish slur. You might turn around, look at the caller in disgust, and go on your way. That is the best case scenario. The worst case scenario is that same person calls out an offensive slur and decides to shoot or insight violence. So what started as a usage of speech, turns into someone being injured or killed due to antisemitism. Speech is normally not single-sided. If someone is using offensive language, the upper-handed party involved will typically not relinquish power so quickly. The ball is in the court of the person who used their language, and they decide how to proceed. More often than not, hateful free speech, results in hate crimes.

Some people do not realize or understand that speech is also a thought pattern. If a person is saying something offensive, they have grown up either thinking those things, or have been influenced in some way. This build-up of hateful emotion often bubbles to the top and leads to the violence that is so often politicized in the media. Speech is just a way of expressing thoughts, and actions are a way of expressing speech and thoughts. Just because speech may be free and just because it may offend one party and not the other, doesn’t mean anything should be said whenever. 

We can put this same logic into concepts and laws we find in the Torah. We are Jews living in America. We have the freedom of speech, a right awarded to us in the Constitution. Does that mean that us as Jewish Americans should go around speaking Hashem’s (God’s) name in vain? Does freedom of speech mean we throw all morality out the window because some man three centuries ago told us we could? Absolutely not. We have laws in the Torah that govern our actions. We know, by growing up in the ways of Hashem, that we should not speak ill of Him or speak His name in vain. The only reason we know this is by studying Torah, and learning it from our parents and schools. But we are American citizens. Doesn’t that mean I can speak Hashem’s name in vain? No, because I have a sense of right and wrong, a sense of morality or what is good and what is not. 

Even if it does not offend you personally, that does not mean it will not offend someone else. You could be at a solemn event and someone comes up to the hosts and screams provocative speech at them. Would that be acceptable even if they do have freedom of speech? You cannot think solely of yourself when saying whatever you want. There always needs to be an underlying sense of morality and composure when speaking otherwise the words that come out can affect any of the parties involved. 

There will always be consequences to your words whether those be on the governmental level or on the familial level; so watch your language. 

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Sources: 

https://www.spreadtheword.global/resource-archive/r-word-effects 

https://www.disabilityscoop.com/2010/10/05/obama-signs-rosas-law/10547/ 

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/retard 

http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/hate 

https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/hate-speech-social-media-global-comparisons

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