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Julie Clark




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Is free speech really free?
A while back, I received an email from a young lady who attends high school. She had found this website and wanted to know "what's the big deal?" She went on to say that there is such a thing as free speech, and that she has a right to say what she wants to say. And if others don't like it, too bad. If she says something that hurts someone, then "they're just weak and deserve it." If that isn't narcissistic thinking, I don't know what is.
On the Cornell University Law School website, it says this "Freedom of expression consists of the rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly and to petition the government for a redress of grievances, and the implied rights of association and belief." Some have taken that to the extreme and feel that anything they say should be okay because they have the right.
Not so. Verbal harassment consists of offensive and hostile speech, whether oral, written, or symbolic, and is directed to specific individuals. Creating an atmosphere by severe, persistent harassment in which a student cannot learn in school or participate in normal activities is NOT protected by the First Amendment.
Free speech is not free. One could not go into an airport and talk about bombs, terrorism, and hijackings, and still expect to arrive at their destination on time. In some neighborhoods, say the wrong words or wear the wrong colors, and the cost of your 'free' speech may be very high indeed. Yelling "fire" in a public place, where there is no fire, and one can expect to pay a penalty. A teenager who mouths of at his parents, exercising his "free speech" may pay a penalty by being grounded or losing privileges.
Relational aggression is the use of words--written, via email and Instant Messages, via telephone, and in person--designed to hurt or harm the targeted person. Intentionally inflicting harm on another person is not protected. There are laws against harassment, and, when a person or individuals are targeted repeatedly with rumors, gossip, lies, and name calling, those laws can be used to cease the harassment. Laws vary by country, and states, so you will have to look up the laws that apply in your area.
Parents of students who are targeted by others repeatedly have the right to pursue their legal rights. Parents are sometimes told by schools that they don't have the right to pursue charges, but that isn't true. If someone is the victim of relational aggression to the point that they cannot pay attention in their classes, they cannot join in the normal activities, cannot enjoy an atmosphere free from harassment, they do have the right to take legal action.
It should not be so hard for the victims, but it often is. Schools should be proactive is implementing a plan of action to reduce relational aggression, and all forms of bullying. The school should know what constitutes bullying and the language of bullying/relational aggression. They should teach all students what constitutes bullying/relational aggression, and the consequences for engaging in bullying/relational aggression. (my e-guide to Relational Aggression and what can done by parents, schools, and other organizations is available for sale...Purchase Guide)
Those who have been the persistent targets of relational aggression and other forms of bullying suffer in many ways. They may have difficulty sleeping, and may not be eating. That is not conducive to paying attention in classes, so grades can suffer. When one is so consumed with what is going to happen next, it is hard to pay attention to algebra.
Victims of RA/bullying may also resort to self-mutilation (cutting). Victims say that the physical pain helps to relieve their emotional pain for a while. Some turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. And some, sadly, have taken their own lives, what is now known as bullycide. They paid the ultimate price for someone else's "free speech."
Copyright 2007-2008 Julie Clark. All rights reserved.
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Please check out these stories for more info on those who paid the ultimate price for being the victims of bullying and relational aggression:
There's usually a price to pay for "free" speech.