Liberties vs. Responsibilites: Film abuses First Amendment rights Abuse
Published: Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 18, 2012 20:09
The news these days – and the political sphere in general – seem to revolve around the question of the limits of personal liberty. The impact of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula’s 14-minute trailer for “The Innocence of Muslims” is the current subject of contention. But the film, and the violence it has unleashed, is merely the most recent instance of misused individual liberty discussed by the national and international community. The real issue here may not be one of legality. First Amendment rights activists can argue the legality of Nakoula’s actions all they want. The real issue is Nakoula’s unethical abuse of those First Amendment Rights.
Whether we like it or not, freedom – of speech, of the right to bear arms, even of the right to do as we choose with our own bodies – comes with intrinsic responsibilities, and with consequences.
We have a right to free speech. Nakoula had a right to create a horrifyingly offensive and blatantly inaccurate film about the Prophet Mohammed. But he is also partly (with an emphasis on “partly”) responsible for the consequences this film has had. The consequences extend beyond the violence in the Middle East. They extend to Muslims around the world, including those in the U.S., who have been hurt by this film’s portrayal of their beliefs.
We have a right to bear arms. But we have a duty to use those arms in a responsible manner. In my mind, this manner extends to hunting, shooting at a range and defending oneself. Not one of these calls for automatic or semi-automatic weapons, as were used in Aurora this past summer and in countless other shootings. Guns rights proponents, members of the NRA and legislators must acknowledge a certain extent of responsibility when too-lenient regulations enable angry, dangerous or mentally unstable citizens to obtain deadly weapons. The consequences of such liberal gun laws are the deaths of far too many innocent people.
We have a right to do what we choose with our own bodies. Women have the right to decide in matters of birth control and pregnancy. They have a responsibility to themselves to think long and hard about these choices, to make the choice that is best for them and to deal with the consequences, should there be any. Men and women alike have the right to decide what they put in their body, which extends to food, drink, alcohol and perhaps in the future, narcotics. We have the responsibility to respect our bodies, however, and to consume these things in moderation. And we have to accept the consequences of obesity, liver damage and other forms of impairment if we fail to do so, and thus become burdens to our families and fellow citizens.
All of these rights are personal rights, and therefore the responsibilities I have mentioned are deeply personal as well. I don’t know what role the government should take (if any) in regulating these rights (with the notable exception of gun laws, which have the power to impact others’ constitutional right to life). But the American population as a whole needs to think long and hard about the privileges liberty entails.
American society has fallen too much in love with the idea of freedom, rather than with the actuality. We defend our ability to drink a 32 oz. can of soda or to make questionable jokes with a fervency disproportionate to the issue at hand. We exercise our liberty simply to prove our right to do so. And that is our right.
But in defending our rights, we too often fail to discuss the moral responsibility we bear in the exercise of these rights, and the consequences – personal and otherwise – of our actions. This exclusion in American discourse needs to change.