In light of the so-called Paula Deen scandal brought about by her purported expression of racial slurs uttered many, many, years ago, it compels me to express my own thoughts on this issue.

The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, or as its better known, freedom of expression. However, the U.S. Supreme Court often has struggled to determine what exactly constitutes protected speech. But first, what is "speech" and what is "protected"? Speech is defined as an expression of ideas, emotions, and thoughts, and its boundaries continue to be stretched. Protected speech means "pure speech" and includes books, leaflets, newspapers, and rallies. Other examples include works of art, T-shirt slogans, political buttons, music lyrics, and theatrical performances. Moreover, to use offensive words and phrases to convey political messages is protected as well.

In the center of controversy in the defense of free speech is whether it protects groups or individuals that spew hate. The answer is it does. At the same time, however, freedom of speech or freedom of expression does not prevent punishing conduct that intimidates, harasses, or threatens another person even if words are used.

As such, let's look further at what right or rights that freedom of speech does not cover: incite actions that would harm others; obscenity; incitement of crime; fighting words; true threats; child pornography, and tortuous conduct.


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The other day CNN was discussing the Paula Deen incident with Derrick Bell, a black law professor at Harvard University and Wolf Blitzer asked him about her use of the word in question. His reply was: "That the word itself is not so offensive, but rather, it's the context in which it is used." He also acknowledged that, as Ms. Deen had said, it has not been her practice in this day and age to continue with any form of racial discrimination or remarks.

So, although everybody has the right to speak their minds, I suspect that freedom of speech and/or freedom of expression may not be protected after all as it now appears common practice to destroy a person's career or life over expression of a particular word, phrase, idea, or other form of communication that some individual, group, or race is offended by. This seems a harsh punishment when you look at what should be protected in the First Amendment.

Larry Thomas is a resident of Antioch.