tagReviews & EssaysA Free Speech Quiz

A Free Speech Quiz


Note: The form of this essay is 8 quiz questions followed by a review/analysis of the broader issue involved. Feel free to answer as many or as few as you wish. There are no right or wrong approaches to these questions, they are simply talking points on the extremely complicated topic of Free Speech.


1. An "Adult Boutique" is scheduled to open in your neighborhood, including raunchy movies, peep shows, and sexual toys. Which of the following statements most closely approaches your feelings about this project?

a) I would be completely OK with the Boutique opening.
b) I would be OK with it, if the hours were midnight to 6 AM.
c) I would not be OK at all, and would sign a petition to have the building permit denied.

This is a classic Free Speech conundrum. Any business has the right to open and offer its peculiar brand of goods and services to the community. One important question here is "How important is pornography and material relating to it?" On the negative side, studies have shown pornography can bring out negative feelings towards women in certain predisposed individuals. In the worst case scenario, one can imagine a horrific scene arising from viewing a film about bondage/humiliation.

On the other hand, it has been argued that most men and women just view pornography as nothing more than a masturbatory aid, and a harmless one at that. Why couldn't a man purchase a pair of edible panties for his girlfriend if he felt his sex life would be improved? Would the neighborhood automatically go downhill through the "encroachment" of such a store? Does "hedonistic sex" as encouraged by pornography lead to the subtle deterioration of a society? And perhaps the most important question, "Does a town, county, state or government have the right or power to close down such a business?" There are no easy or definitive answers here, I am hoping someone will examine this question in a more thorough treatment.

2. Your 18 year old straight son asks if it is all right to have his 19 year old gay friend spend the night. After concealing your surprise, you say:

a) "Sure, as long as you sleep in different rooms."
b) "No way, I would be uncomfortable."
c) "Yeah, no problem."

Another Free Speech dilemma. Certainly, anyone has the right to choose the sexuality that is right for them. However it seems with homosexuality in particular, some individuals believe that gay men are always looking for weak willed straight individuals to "convert."

Dovetailing this is the simple fact that in most states an 18 year old is considered an adult, and therefore free to do whatever he wants in bed. Should parents have a say in the sleeping arrangements in this case? Some might argue, "Well, it's their house and they have the right to set up rules that make them feel comfortable." Another angle is why the 18 year old son would feel compelled to mentioned his friend is gay at all. Is he worried what might happen if he sleeps in the same room with his friend?

My personal belief is that effective parent-child communication needs to start at an early age to yield the level of trust that is needed to have a heart-to-heart talk on this issue.

3. Your neighbor has this thing for flamingos. He has a flamingo shaped mailbox, a flamingo colored car, and (gulp!) two dozen plastic flamingos living it up on his lawn. Everyone in the neighborhood is sick and tired of his flamingo fetish and one person starts a petition to ask him to remove the hot pink eyesores. When asked to sign the petition, you say:

a) "Sure, he is really dragging the neighborhood downhill."
b) "Yeah, but that's not enough. Let's have the town force him to remove them."
c) "Hell no, I love flamingos, too!"

Apparently trivial issues like this can actually cause a great deal of resentment and hurt feelings. Of course, the obvious argument is "It's his property and he could cover it with dog poop if he wanted to." But at what point do "things" placed on a property exceed what society calls "good taste"? I used to live across the street from a woman who did not believe in throwing away old lawn chairs, propane tanks, etc. and the debris simply piled up on her lawn until it was one gigantic eyesore. Many attempts were made by the neighborhood to get the rusty garbage removed, to no avail. Apparently, the larger question is "Do the unorthodox decisions of one individual have less value than those that are designed for the common good?" If the old propane tank started leaking fuel and there was the danger of an explosion, it would have to go, but before that point?? At the moment, it seems all one can do in a case like this is ask the person nicely to remove the offending objects. I doubt if local authorities can or would make much difference.

4. A section of your state needs more power, so power lines are slated to be upgraded in a 25 mile stretch which includes the area near your house. Because it is physically and medically dangerous to be close to so much power, the state proposes to buy your house at fair market value, then plow it to the ground. A public hearing is held in your town concerning this issue. You decide to attend, and your opinion is:

a) "Sure, we'll take the money."
b) "Let's negotiate to try to move the lines to someone else's neighborhood."
c) "I'll take the chance and live near the increased power and electromagnetic shields."

This matter is very near and dear to me, because it is happening right now in my state and my sister may lose her house. The larger issue is "Do the free speech rights of a relatively few individuals need to yield to a process which is clearly designed to help a great many people?" The state has argued that it is unfair that so many millions will have to live with the danger of brownouts and power reductions just so a hundred or two families can keep their homes.

To play "devil's advocate", I would advocate a solution whereby the lines would either go underground or through public woods, fields, etc. It is simply too extreme to force an individual to abandon his property, especially when alternate solutions should be explored first!

5. An elderly couple lives in a town which has a very high school tax, since a brand new Middle School has just been completed. They petition to be exempt from the tax, since they have no children and are not allied with the public schools in any way. Where do you stand on this?

a) I totally disagree. Someone with children might eventually buy their property! Besides, they can sell their house for more because their community has fine schools, thus offsetting the tax burden.
b) I agree that they perhaps should pay on a "sliding scale", but still need to take on some of the tax burden.
c) I don't think they should have to pay any of the school tax, since they are on a fixed income.

Another question that hits home as I am single and have no children in my town's schools. Yet, virtually every year the mill rate goes up due to improvements within the school system. Is it too simplistic to merely say "If you have kids you pay, but if you don't you are exempt?" What about those elderly couples whose children went through the school system earlier? And those couples who have several children attending many schools versus those with an only child...should they have to pay even more?

One possibility is to make the property tax a combination of a home's assessed value and "school commitment". By that last phrase I mean the total number of children currently in school. It does seem like common sense that those taking advantage of a particular improvement should make the greatest financial commitment to it, but perhaps I'm missing something here. Comments, please?

6. Your 10 year old son makes an elaborate picture of heaven, complete with Jesus and several angels as part of a "free drawing" project in Art class. Later, he asks a few of his friends if they pray. His teacher immediately calls and asks if it is OK for your son to talk to the school psychologist. Your response is:

a) Sure, he draws heaven all the time at home, too!
b) I would prefer to talk about this matter with my son privately.
c) No way! What do those dumb school psychologists know anyway!

I'm a school psychologist and this event actually happened. Personally, I think it is healthy to express the enthusiasm and confidence in one's faith, and for children drawing is the ideal medium. Asking other children if they pray is much trickier, as they may wish to keep the answer to such a question private. It is really impossible to separate the church and state completely and I question whether such a complete schism is even desirable. If you devote one day out of seven to worship, that's more than 50 days a year, or nearly a year and one half in ten years! Why pretend religion is a small part of your life just to satisfy the separation of church and state requirement? I don't believe in preaching religion in schools, but surely a quiet enjoyment of one's faith is desirable and to be encouraged...

7. Someone from your workplace examines the pattern of your e-mails and determines that you have been visiting Literotica one time each day (to check the rating of your Free Speech Contest essay, of course!) Since Literotica is an "adult site", you get a written warning, the next step being dismissal. Your attitude toward this company policy is:

a) Screw it! Literotica rules!
b) I agree, after all I shouldn't be using company time checking e-mails.
c) A simple discussion of the issue should be enough, I would ask that the warning be removed from my file.

Ah, the information age! This is as sticky as molasses, because it would be quite different if someone accessed the internet during their lunch hour or 15 minute break versus when they are actually supposed to work. In the former example, would it be OK to visit Literotica on a computer? I would say "no" mainly because in my working environment at least, there is a slim chance that a child could view my actions. However, in an all adult setting, one should be able to surf adult sites, especially if the computer is one's own. Using a company computer for such actions is more controversial, I can see either side. Reluctantly, I would ultimately agree with only checking controversial websites in the privacy of one's home...a great deal is at stake, and the risk of being terminated is simply too great.

8. Your 14 year old daughter is upset about a new, very restrictive dress code in her high school, so she leads a controversial petition to have it dropped. At the same time, teachers start treating her poorly, and she is demoted from her position as captain of the softball team, for seemingly unrelated reasons. You make an appointment with the school principal, and your position is:

a) Your daughter has the right to her freedom of speech, and shouldn't be stifled by the administration.
b) You agree that the dress code is important, and suggest a compromise whereby only parts of it are modified.
c) You completely agree with the school's treatment of your daughter.

Of all the questions, this one is the most personally frustrating, as it actually happened in my school system. Education is so frigging phony...we encourage students to be creative thinkers and write "persuasion papers" and then when they actually do something creative and non-conformist we quickly squelch them. Is this process simply a power struggle between insecure adults and increasingly dissatisfied children? Or are schools obsessed with merely pumping out good little soldiers who won't talk back or disobey orders? Home Schooling is enjoying record popularity, and I don't think that fact is accidental. "Free Speech" in school is anything but. This particular student paid a huge price in the loss of popularity and self-esteem. After attempting suicide, she is now in a Residential Placement, at a huge cost to taxpayers.

If this modest quiz opened your eyes a little more and made you get "emotional", you get a "100". Free Speech is never as obvious as one thinks, and I thank Literotica for realizing the importance of this type of contest.

Class dismissed...

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