This is a tragic time for our country. A time for looking into our collective soul and realizing that various forms of racism and prejudice are very much with us. And as Jews, we especially know what that means. This is a tragic time for our country. A time for looking into our collective soul and realizing that various forms of racism and prejudice are very much with us. And as Jews, we especially know what that means.
The recent ugly demonstrations in Charlottesville have caused me to yet again consider the intent and implications of the First Amendment of our constitution:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
In its historic context, I find it hard to believe that our founders sought to protect the rights of bigots and hate-mongers to assemble and spew hatred and violence. I do not believe that such was the intent of “freedom of speech.”
Our Jewish tradition has always been very much concerned with the power of speech and its capacity to bring hurt and pain to good and innocent people. So do we have a daily prayer which expresses: “O God, keep my lips from wicked speech….” Yes, our sages recognized the impact of hateful speech and the pain and suffering which “words” can impose upon others. So does the Torah say: “You shall not wrong one another;” a passage which has traditionally been interpreted as wronging a person with speech. It includes any statement that will embarrass, insult or deceive a person, or cause a person emotional pain or distress.
While I acknowledge that the first amendment “technically” protects the right of hate-mongers to assemble and express themselves, the fact that they have this right does not make it moral. Yes, all of these “gatherings” are intended to lead to something; in many cases to violent and hateful actions. So the bottom line for me in this societal struggle is that any action, that in any way, promotes hatred and racism in any of its forms is not protected by the First Amendment.
So how do we contain this right and keep it from turning into something ugly, if not immoral and dangerous? No, I do not believe that they have the right to publically assemble to yell “fire” so to speak. For me, such is the reality of a public demonstration of bigots and people who come together with evil in their hearts. Common sense dictates at least for me, that such behavior is contrary to the worthy values and ideals for which America stands.
I began by saying that this is a “tragic time.” Let me end by saying that it is also a hopeful time. A time when we hope that that the best that is American society will stand determined and powerful against all of those wicked forces of evil. I believe that we have it in us to prevail.