The Cost of Free Speech

April 20, 2012 | Sarah

By guest blogger Katie Johnson

The buzz about Rush Limbaugh and Hillary Rosen has died down, but the verbal war against women clearly isn’t over – particularly when it comes to conservative women. Another radio personality, Randi Rhodes, decided last month that conservative women don’t deserve ovaries. This quip, which takes reproductive rights to the opposite extreme, is one of many controversial statements that Rhodes has made. They are not limited to conservative women, either; in 2008, Rhodes was suspended for calling Hillary Clinton names.

Randi Rhodes

It is hypocritical to use the freedom of speech to deny conservative women their freedom to have children – taking reproductive rights to the opposite extreme – but it is not uncommon for the freedom of speech to allow an outcry for the reduction of other freedoms. The Second Amendment is the shield behind which every other amendment is attacked.

Apparently, it has been forgotten that even freedom of speech is limited, for example, in the case of “clear and present danger.” Again, Rhodes’ threat was not taken too seriously, or at least, less seriously than her suggestion that President Bush should be assassinated. But individual liberty only exists as long as it does not interfere with another individual’s liberty. John Stuart Mill said that individual liberty only exists as long as it does not harm another individual.

It has been argued that “words can never hurt me,” but defamation often hurts both the victim and person who said it. Hurting others was not meant to be the purpose of freedom of speech. Diversity of opinion does not need to be manifested in derogatory language.

Though the comments are not exclusive to a particular party, conservative women seem to be paying the price of free speech. Among adamant partisanship, being right is more important than being compassionate. Liberty has become more important than humanity. The opposing political party is called the enemy, and desperate attempts to get the upper-hand on public opinion have reduced dialogue to mud-slinging.

It is my hope that NeW women will continue to promote traditional values by responding to the attacks they hear with grace and polite correction, and prove themselves deserving of better treatment.

Katie Johnson is a freshman at Cornell University, and a member of the NeW at Cornell Chapter. She regularly writes for the Cornell Review.

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