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Consider this quote from Abe Lincoln

"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."



     I don’t pretend to understand the “Occupy Iowa” movement.  Between working ridiculously long hours this harvest season and just having a dose of good old complacency when it comes to politics lately, I haven’t really taken the time to dig into the movement or what the participants hope to accomplish.  As I was driving home from work last week, I had tuned in one of the “left wing” radio talk shows and was shocked to learn that there are members of the movement who want to disrupt and ultimately send a message to the public by shutting down the Iowa Caucuses.  
      In listening to one of the “leaders” discuss the intent to disrupt the political process the phrase “freedom of speech” was uttered and the person on the radio made ever attempt to shield themselves behind the constitution in order to persuade you and I that what they have intended is covered under it.
     This made me think about my own brush with freedom of speech as guaranteed under the constitution and my first real stand that I had to take when I applied for a journalism scholarship in high school.  The question that I was asked to answer in paragraph form, asked if freedom of speech covered every one of us, every time we spoke.
      While the constitution does grant us the freedom of speech, with that freedom: or right if you will, each of us is under a great burden to make sure that our speech falls within certain conduct.  I can speak out against the President, or the Mayor, or a member of the school board or even the woman that broke my heart.  The right I have been given as a citizen means that I am free to speak my mind, and my opinion without threat of jail, recrimination or death.  However, it is important to remember that when we use that right of free speech we must speak the truth, and prepare ourselves to stand up and prove the truth we have spoken.
     Just as screaming, “fire!” in a public place when there is no fire is not only detrimental to the public good it is a pretty crummy trick to pull, when we speak against someone or some thing; i.e. “the government” we must also use constraint to make sure that our speech is not defamatory and is backed up by fact.  When your speech is filled with slander or libel you no longer fall under the protection of freedom of speech, although you are still allowed the protection to say what you want.  In this case, however, you will probably end up in court defending your speech if not becoming someone people tend to not listen to. 
     Every one of us deals with something that points clearly to how often people fail with this right.  We all know a few people whom like to gossip.  In the newspaper business I soon learned that the line between gossip and news was sometimes not only very fine but also very gray.  However, I’ve lived in a small town long enough to know how damaging gossip can be, and how a small piece of truth can be twisted and turned and finally end up so far from the truth that it can no longer be found.  Each of us have grown up and dealt with this, been hurt by it, and probably done a little of it ourselves.  But we need to be vigilant not to allow ourselves to fall into the trap to often.
     Our freedom is delicate and must be used accordingly.  It is a lesson we each need to learn and pass on, even though there are many times when even those who administer that right tend to spin it.  The Occupy Iowa movement while certainly having the right to speak their peace and are also afforded another right under the constitution, that of the right to assemble; when their actions and words infringe on my right to participate in the political process which I am entitled, then they no longer are afforded such protections. 
      It is a shame in a way that the members of the movement feel that there message needs to be spread this way, because in the end, I’m afraid that the general public will actually have less tolerance for them and the message they want to spread. When they find in the end no one will listen to their message, they will learn that with the freedom to speak, also comes the responsibility to choose their words carefully. Something we all need to do from time to time.

See you next week…Remember, we’re all in this together.