Written by Robert McPherson
This summer I had the opportunity to represent the United States Army in memorials and ceremonies across Normandy, France. June 6, 1944, is a day that will be forever remembered on the French calendar as the day that the Allied invasion of Normandy took place — better known as D-Day. That overcast day was the start of the liberation of France from Nazi control, and within a few months, the Allies had liberated all of Europe from tyranny. Basically, the people of Normandy celebrate D-Day for almost two weeks the way Americans celebrate the Fourth of July. The people of Normandy — and many others from across Europe — are thankful for what the Allied forces accomplished in the war.
This brings me to an inherent flaw in our ever-changing society: a lack of respect for those who fight for freedom, whether it be our own or the freedom of those who are unable to fight for it. Recently I watched a video on YouTube that featured a woman standing on an American flag and sneering at soldiers, who, in their respect and disgust for her application of freedom of speech, turned around and ignored her. Incidents like these are discouraging to those who might dream of serving our country and to those who do.
Over the past year there have been several professional football players who have exercised their freedom of speech by kneeling during the national anthem, and it is their constitutional right to do so. However, there is a distinct difference between voicing your opinion and being disrespectful. The national anthem is a song meant to instill a pride for one’s country, and it also represents the generations of soldiers who have fought and died to make our country what it is today.
To summarize the free speech portion of the First Amendment: the government can’t stop you from saying things unless they are a threat to national security or they create libel against government officials. Schools, for example, can’t punish you for voicing your opinion or for symbolic speech. So you can burn the American flag, but you can’t be obscene.
The idea of freedom of speech has been a pivotal characteristic of our country’s ideal since its conception, and its application has helped iron out social injustices in the fabric of freedom. Among those heating the metaphorical iron are people like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who spoke out against inequality for women and minorities. The difference between people then and the people of today is that they advocated their points respectfully. It seems that the United States Military has the most diverse community which, I think, works together better than any community in the country or the world. As Americans, we should be open to the possibility of change. However, those advocating for it should do so in such a way that can clearly convey their ideas to the unconvinced.
Free speech is something that I value highly, and there is a proper way to go about advocating for it. Society is always changing, but to facilitate change, people must work together. However, being rude and disrespectful to people who may not see eye-to-eye with you won’t convince them to agree with you. We’ve been told that actions speak louder than words, but if we want to be the change in the world, we need to do so in a manner that cultivates a community of love and respect. The actions of some speak louder than most and those are the actions of service members who fight and sometimes die to protect our freedoms. So, the next time you exercise free speech, make sure you do so in a manner that is respectful to those who ensure you have that right.