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July 5, 2013

NASH: The cost of free speech

NEW ALBANY —

This week we celebrate our Independence Day and many of the freedoms that we cherish. Over the last few weeks we have learned about some of those freedoms that we hold so dear. One of those freedoms, the freedom of speech, is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Some people believe that since we have freedom of speech, we can say whatever we want whenever we want. While the First Amendment does give us the right to say just about anything, it does not protect Americans from the consequences that result in what they say. In just the last couple of weeks we have seen this play out in the case of celebrity chef Paula Deen.

All of the drama began when Paula Deen gave a deposition in a discrimination lawsuit that was brought on by an employee of a restaurant that she owns that is run by her brother. One of the things that came to light was her admission to using the “N-word” in the past. I don’t have a problem with the fact that she admitted to using it at some point in her life but her subsequent explanation and apology is where the whole thing went off the rails.

The “everybody-has-said-it” defense doesn’t work for me because I know that everybody hasn’t said it. Maybe many people have said the word out loud but before they are vilified you would want to know the context. Just repeating the word isn’t necessarily offensive, but its use in jokes or as an epithet cannot be tolerated.

One of her explanations for using the offensive word was that she was old and  from the South. While this might have been part of the culture, it doesn’t make it right. In her first apology she seemed to believe that she should be given a pass because of how she was raised. Just because you were raised in a time when things like this may have been tolerated doesn’t justify the toleration today.

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