“You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man’s freedom. You can only be free if I am free.” – Clarence Darrow
I read this quote recently on a post from blogger, Katherine Gregor at her site, Londoner’s Musings. Gregor was posting about freedoms and rights and she used the quote to point out, as she put it, “Your freedom must be limited by the boundary marking the start of my freedom.”
The boundary between my freedom and the freedom of others has been one that I have struggled with often over the past few years. I appreciate that everyone has rights and specifically the right to free speech. The water becomes increasingly murky when we talk about free speech that is done with the intent to harm others. Or, as often the case, speech that should be known to create an environment that is hateful and negative. Additionally, there is the issue where my rights are taken away under the guise of preserving someone else’s rights.
A couple of examples may help to illustrate my point. In Ontario, we are fighting against legislation imposed by our government that takes away our right to negotiate with our employee, the school boards, regarding specific portions of our collective agreements. The government used the argument that they were imposing the legislation in order to ensure students would return to school in September without the threat of a strike; basically the government implied that they were fighting for the rights of children to their education.
It is a real reach for me to believe that the government did not see the irony in this act of political overreaching. And the real kicker comes in the fact that the government did not have to impose this legislation to ensure the right to education for students in Ontario; it was never in jeopardy. No strikes had been planned. The government did not act in good faith throughout the initial process and they continually misconstrued or lied to the public. The government, through their rhetoric, created an environment that they should have known would be hateful and negative.
Where are my rights in this?
The most frustrating example, though, is in regards to the ongoing debate about gay marriage specifically and gay rights in general. Both sides of this debate have been accused of not allowing for the rights of the other side. Where do my rights start and yours end?
I know that people have a right to their beliefs and I support that right. What I do not stand by is someone’s right when it impedes me or anyone else living their life. How does who I love, marry, share my life with, whatever, impede on your rights?
When your “right” to free speech means that you speak words that promote intolerance and hate, I feel that you are stepping over the line where my rights and freedom should be.
So, yes, you are free, but only if I am free.