Free speech is important – and how Americans feel about it is so very complicated

For more than a year, I’ve been trying to write a column about free speech, particularly in the context of political protests.

I started thinking about this last year when a Calhoun County resident flew a flag upside down in protest of how he felt he was being treated by the Dakota Access Pipeline. He was a military veteran who said it pained him to treat the American flag in such a way, but that he felt he could most clearly make his point with a peaceful but potent protest.

Fast forward to this fall, when all I can find on Facebook is the discussion over whether football players taking a knee during the National Anthem is disrespecting the flag and veterans and police officers. The conversation ramped up at the end of last month, when entire National Football League teams either kneeled or chose to stand or even refused to take the field when the Star Spangled Banner was played.

What really made it strike home, though, was sitting in during jury selection Thursday morning at the Calhoun County Courthouse. Deputy County Attorney Ricki Osborne Stubbs pressed potential jurors about how they felt about protesting. When she asked whether the jurors agreed that people should be able to protest, every potential juror raised a hand to indicate they agreed.

Only one juror, though, had ever actually protested something. The woman said she had run out of her high school as a freshman to protest what she and classmates thought was the unfair firing of a sports coach. 

Read more in the Oct. 18 edition.