By Denny Wilkins
As a citizen of the United States of America, you can criticize your government as intelligently, as profanely, or as stupidly as you wish. You can call the president of the nation an unintelligent, uninspiring, and incompetent leader. You can call your representative in Congress a buffoonish party hack and urge his or her removal from office. You can attack the policies enacted by government at all levels as often as you wish.
You can assemble with others to complain about the government. You can petition the government for redress of grievances. You can practice a religion free of government interference. Most importantly, you have the right to speak your mind. You can say whatever you want about the government short of advocating violence to overthrow it. You are free to speak or write critically about the actions or inactions of your government.
You can be a critic of your government because for more than two centuries, hundreds of thousands of Americans before you fought and died for your right to do so. Exercising your rights honors those men and women.
Exercising your rights is not criminal, evil, or treasonous. These rights are guaranteed to you by the Constitution. Founders placed them in that governing document with the expectation that citizens would use them — that citizens would be empowered and expected to act as critics and redoubts against the political or legal shortcomings of their government.
In this young century, however, Americans have suffered increased assaults on their rights — especially privacy — by their own government, all in the name of the proclaimed need for “national security.” Because of fear, government continues to attempt to foreclose on constitutional protections.
Government may erode constitutional guarantees in the absence of the watchful eye of the governed. Rights not exercised may become rights lost. It is an obligation of citizenship for Americans that they continually critique and comment on the actions of their government. That is how we shape our government. Failure to do so allows government to shape us and our rights instead.
America has a slew of problems confronting it — loss of respect from abroad, an uncertain future for its economy, current and potential foreign conflicts, a two-party system run amok, and an enormous fiscal deficit, just to name a few.
In this moment, as political divisiveness tarnishes that “shining city upon a hill,” it is imperative that Americans — all Americans — exercise their constitutional rights.
Disagreements among Americans have always abounded. But our constitutional rights and obligations should be used to bind our wounds, not create new injuries.
Dr. Denny Wilkins worked as a reporter and editor at a rural New England newspaper for two decades. He has taught journalism at St. Bonaventure University for nearly a quarter of a century. This post was adapted from an article at scholarsandrogues.com by the author.