SmackDown: Is Suspension Too Severe a Punishment for a Facebook Post?
Filed under: Opinions
by Tom Henderson
Freedom of (Nasty) Speech Extends to Teenagers
Imagine if the Founding Fathers were middle school students with Facebook pages.
"John Adams is a hideous hermaphroditical character with neither the force and firmness of a man nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman," posts Thomas Jefferson.
Modern translation: The guy's got no cajones.
"If Thomas Jefferson wins, murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced," posts John Adams.
Of course, Adams and Jefferson were not middle school students with Facebook pages. They were great men who, along with other great men, bequeathed to us a country with the freedom of speech. Provided you are not a middle school student with a Facebook page.
A middle schooler in New Hampshire was suspended recently for posting on her Facebook page that she was sorry Osama bin Laden never got around to killing her math teacher.
Suspended? Seriously? Show of hands. How many of you ever wished -- if only in anger or jest -- another person dead at one point or another? You probably have, and let's be honest here. Odds are it was a math teacher.
Facebook merely amplifies things.
But if Adams and Jefferson were middle school students, and nasty Facebook posts were against the rules, they would have spent more time in detention than Judd Nelson and the entire Breakfast Club combined. And you know the worst part? These guys were friends. They actually liked each other. Imagine what they would have said if they were enemies.
Adams and Jefferson knew freedom of speech is not always pretty -- it can even take a turn for the murderous.
Comedian Groucho Marx was asked in 1971 if he thought there was any hope for President Richard Nixon. "No, I think the only hope for this country is Nixon's assassination," Marx responded.
Another comedian, songwriter Tom Lehrer, was asked in 2005 if he had anything funny to say about President George W. Bush. "I don't want to satirize George Bush and his puppeteers," Lehrer responded. "I want to vaporize them."
Conservatives are not above wishing people dead, either. "We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' creme brulee," commentator Ann Coulter said in 2007. "That's just a joke, for you in the media."
And a darn funny one, Ann. Murdering a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court? What a hoot!
Poisoning is a popular theme. Conservative commentator Glenn Beck joked about poisoning Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's wine in 2008. Another knee-slapper.
Count on music legend Ted Nugent to be more direct. He asked Barack Obama "to suck on my machine gun" during the 2008 campaign.
We react like Victorian school marms when our children vent their frustrations with angry and violent imagery. But if someone we happen to agree with politically does it? C'mon, it's just a joke. Political correctness suddenly becomes a bigger issue than violent rhetoric.
But don't worry, Glenn. Make all the rib-tickling jokes about poisoning people's wine you want. You're safe. And you should be. So should a 13-year-girl cracking morbid jokes about her math teacher on her personal Facebook page.
We should teach our children manners and civility. However, as Supreme Court Justice William Brennan said in 1964, America's open marketplace of ideas should be "uninhibited, robust and wide open."
Freedom of speech in America is one nasty 235-year-old running bitch-fest. It would be hypocritical to punish our kids for joining in the festivities.
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.