July 10, 2011

When Free Speech Goes Afoul


Freedom of speech is one of our most precious rights.

However, there are limits - times when the right to speak and publish comes up against the principle that one should not cause harm to others.

The famous example is that you cannot falsely cry, "Fire!" in a crowded theater.

Free speech--yes; harm to others--no.

This week (11-17, July 2011), a BusinessWeek article called "Set Them Free" exemplifies what can happen when free speech goes too far.

The article is an argument in favor of illegal immigration.

The author's thesis is stated in the form of a rhetorical question: "Laws against illegal immigration make little economic or moral sense. So why punish the brave citizen who break them?"

Certainly, I am sympathetic to newcomers to our land. I come from a family of immigrants, like so many American citizens, and I value the opportunities and freedom this country has provided to me and my family.

However, in this article, the author openly promotes breaking the law. He supports "illegal" immigration and calls for others to facilitate it.

One can argue about economics and morality of immigration policy, but from my perspective, obviously, no country can have fully open borders. Logically, this helps to ensure safety, security, and social order. Coming up on the 10-year "anniversary" of the events of 9/11, this is a no-brainer.

I therefore have trouble believing that Bloomberg would publish an article essentially calling for an end to border security. Any arguments regarding economic benefit do not detract from the clear negative implications for national security. (Note: all opinions my own.)

Not only does the article ignore this point, but it brazenly calls the laws against illegal immigration "immoral."

The author stretches the limits of free speech beyond the breaking point in my view, when he recklessly states: "When a law itself prohibits doing the right thing, when it is immoral rather than just annoying or inconvenient, and when breaking the law does no great harm to any others, it is justifiable for people of conscience to chose to break that law."

He literally states that illegal immigration is "the right thing (!)"

How can a mainstream media source publish such extremist rhetoric, even going so far as to compare the U.S. laws to apartheid: "Current, U.S. immigration laws have all the moral standing of pass laws in apartheid South Africa."

In addition to teaching us that free speech can be misused to spread extremism, hatred, lies, promote civil disobedience, and enable chaos, there are some other unfortunate lessons here.

The first is that one must think critically about what one reads, even if it is in a supposedly "mass media" publication. For immigration is a blessing and a privilege, but not an entitlement. Nobody has the right to enter another country's borders at will, without restriction.

Second, and more troubling, extremist thinking clearly continues to flourish not only outside our borders, but from fanatics within.

While I agree that we should always be moral, help those in need, and make good economic decisions, this does not negate the importance of maintaining security and social order. Further, it is irresponsible at the very least to promote breaking the law, and offensive to compare illegal immigration as an issue of economic exploitation to the drastic human rights abuses of apartheid South Africa.

(Source Photo: here)


1 comment:

jfguerra said...

An interesting perspective. I have read the article you mention and while I am not advocating open borders I think you missed the main message: that immigration, legal or not, benefits this country. Facts and figures are spread out throughout the article and yet nowhere do you mention this well documented evidence.
Also, you say that the article "...stretches the limits of free speech beyond the breaking point..." because it encourages breaking the law. Were African Americans NOT breaking the law when they chose to challenge riding in the back of the bus? Where they not doing the same when they sat at the lunch counter? I would say yes, but for all the right reasons.
The meanness, clearly racist, and bigoted laws being passed at the state level are meant for one thing and one thing only: to intimidate illegal immigrants and drive them away. THAT more than outweighs these individuals' being here without the proper documents. THAT is a moral imperative.
Lastly, if you want to criticize Bloomberg Businessweek for their effots to "...spread extremism, hatred, lies, promote civil disobedience, and enable chaos.." then I would hope you soon write about mass media that encourages the Minutemen movement, that praises Congressional representatives such Alabama’s Republican Rep. Mo Brooks, who recently said he will "...do anything short of shooting them...” which more than one individual will interpret as a license to threaten these individuals...short of shooting of course.
In short, I believe you took one side of the story and conveniently ignored the rest. I hope in the future you also criticize those who would either pass bigoted laws OR who spew incendiary language that will create even more animosity towards undocumented workers.