So, About that First Amendment…

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”- Evelyn Beatrice Hall (though often attributed to Voltaire)

The right to speak freely has been essential to humankind for centuries, even before it was codified in the First Amendment of the US Constitution. In American politics, the first amendment is sacred (though the second, fourth, and ninth are also pretty popular among different groups of citizens). Especially today, anyone who seems to threaten the right to speak, practice religion, protest, and write freely is vilified.

The problem we have now — thanks to angry politics, the fact that everyone with a phone or computer has a loudspeaker, and moral absolutism — is that people don’t think that opposition has any place at all. What happened to civil discourse, to debate, to just letting people “stand there in their wrongness and be wrong?” (that’s from the west wing- see above.) Why do so many people feel so strongly that their position is the only one that matters that they drown out everything else?

I’m not here to decide exactly where plain-old, stupid-and-ridiculous-bigotry ends and true hate speech begins. I’m not here to say whether safe spaces and trigger warnings are right or wrong. I can’t be the one to decide when a protest warrants police action, or judge someone’s method of peaceful protest. I can argue passionately that women should be free to wear clothing that reflects their religion, but clearly, others will challenge that belief. So I will simply remind as many people possible that we all have a right to disagree, to be offended, to protest peacefully, and to be religious in a tumultuous time.

Technology and social media has exacerbated these tensions. That is why I believe in what Agora does: it’s about talking and maybe not agreeing; about getting things done and not complaining. It’s about giving a voice to those who need it without equipping everyone with a megaphone. Let’s cut through the bullsh*t and noise and focus not on claiming the moral high ground on every single issue, but on what’s best for us, for our teams, for our families, for our communities, for our country, our world.

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