Freedom of Speech Brings with it the Responsibility of Respecting Fellow Citizens
When informing people that they shouldn’t use the word “retarded” here in the United States, they often argue that freedom of speech allows them to say what they would like. I agree with them- they are correct- but they are forgetting a large component that freedom brings with it.
In the United States, we have a constitution. It holds our very fundamental laws and beliefs, and it is our basis for what is right and wrong when it comes to the law. The constitution has amendments, and the first one states:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
In short, the first amendment guarantees the freedom of American citizens to say what they please without the government putting them in jail. For example, if you do not like a part of the government, you can say so every minute of every day, but the government cannot punish you. This is a wonderful amendment, but when people use it to justify disrespect, they are forgetting wise words from Eleanor Roosevelt: with freedom comes responsibility.
All American citizens have the freedom to say what they would like, but many nations do not guarantee their citizens this freedom. We take this for granted, and are irresponsible with our speech. You have the freedom to use the word “retarded,” but you have a responsibility to your fellow citizens to be respectful.
The word “retarded” used to be a word referring to people with disabilities. It soon became an insult referring to people with disabilities. When people say, for example, “you’re a retard” to their friend after making a mistake or doing something they do not like, they are saying, “because you made that mistake/did that thing I did not like, you are like a person with disabilities.” The word “retarded” becoming an insult that refers to people with disabilities has had a negative impact on how society as a majority views people with disabilities, and as a result, how people with disabilities are treated.
People who grow up hearing the insult “retarded” being used as a synonym for “stupid,” “dumb,” “bad,” “unfair,” and “needs to stop,” most often view the people the word “retarded” refers to (people with disabilities) as “stupid,” “dumb,” “bad,” “unfair,” and “need to stop.” They view people with disabilities as unintelligent, incompetent, and a waste of space. These people become nurses, doctors, dentists, teachers, politicians, police officers, etc. They bring this into their workplace. People with disabilities often are denied proper medical care, quality educations, legal equality, and public safety. We know this from the countless times medical professionals have questioned a patient with Down syndrome's family members if the patient is really worth it; the countless times school systems have shoved kids with Down syndrome in one room together and taught them to make spaghetti and clean the school; the countless times people with disabilities have been impacted by current and previous laws, like the one that allowed employers to pay people with disabilities less than minimum wage; and the countless times people with disabilities in danger have been ignored or presumed as the source of danger. I want to make one thing very clear: of course not every person in these professions does this, but it is enough that there is a problem with these professions overall.
Banning words is like burning books. I do not believe it should be done, but I believe we need to stop taking the guarantee of this freedom for granted, and begin taking on our responsibility to respect our fellow citizens. The first amendment gives us the freedom to choose not to use the word “retarded” out of respect. Let’s be the Americans we claim to be and finally take on this responsibility.