We have the right to speak freely as Americans, of course, but we have much more than the right to speak up when the occasion warrants it.
In fact, I would argue that we have the duty as citizens to follow the dictates of our conscience, even when what we have to say will be unwelcome or make us unpopular with those listening to our words.
But all too often we surrender that privilege, right and duty as citizens of the greatest nation in the history of the world, and we do so to the detriment of both ourselves and the overall health and well being of our American society.
In the following quote, Cuban dissident and hero Armando Valladares says that 'Even when we have nothing, each person and only that person possesses the keys to his or her own conscience, his or her own sacred castle:'
"From remarks by Cuban poet and human-rights activist Armando Valladares upon receiving the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty’s Canterbury Medal in New York, May 12:
When I was 23 years old I did a very small thing. I refused to say a few words, “I’m with Fidel.” First I refused the sign on my desk that said as much, and after years of torture and watching so many fellow fighters die, either in body or in spirit, I persisted in my refusal to say the few words the regime demanded of me.
My story is proof that a seemingly small act of defiance can mean everything to the enemies of freedom. They did not keep me in jail for 22 years because my refusal to say three words meant nothing. They kept me there that long because it meant everything.
For me to say those words would have been spiritual suicide. And though my body was in prison and abused, my soul was free and flourished. My jailers took everything from me, but they could not hijack my conscience.
Even when we have nothing, each person and only that person possesses the keys to his or her own conscience, his or her own sacred castle. In that respect, each of us, though we may not have an earthly castle or even a house, each of us is richer than a king or queen.
For many of you, particularly the young people, it may seem I come from another time and from a remote place. Young friends, you may not be taken away at gunpoint, as I was for staying true to my conscience, but there are many other ways to take you away and to imprison your body and your mind. There are many ways you can be silenced.
I warn you: Just as there is a short distance between the U.S. and Cuba, there is a very short distance between a democracy and a dictatorship where the government gets to decide what we believe and what we do. And sometimes this is not done at gunpoint but instead it is done one piece of paper at a time, one seemingly meaningless rule at a time, one silencing at a time. Beware young friends. Never compromise. Never allow the government—or anyone else—to tell you what you can or cannot believe or what you can and cannot say or what your conscience tells you to have to do."
So when you have something thoughtful to say or not say, as the case may be, even when doing so is likely to be unpopular or politically incorrect, please feel free and even obligated to say or refrain from saying it.
Free speech is both our right and duty as free Americans. It's our 1st Amendment Constitutional guarantee as well.
We can't change anything if we can't change our minds, and we aren't likely to change our minds unless we are first willing to hear and then consider new information.
And that new information often first originates with others who speak their minds and offer new ideas or different ways of viewing old things.
That's my take.