UNITED STATES—In today’s world we can hold a cell phone and record a police officer while he or she is being heckled. The internet is flooded with videos that show the gross misuse of freedom of speech while school-aged children degrade and humiliate educators. The disruptions in classrooms have grown to such extremes that teachers across the country are complaining of being unable to do their jobs.
Imagine if today’s youth lived in an era when free speech was not such a luxury!
Once upon a time freedom of speech in America was something only had by men that were white. The importance of a man’s life and words during this time can be seen in the earliest censuses, and the exclusion of individual facts regarding women and people of other colors. Women did not gain equal rights until 1920, several decades after black men.
But what about before America?
This is the 21st century, though, and we are modern-minded individuals that want to know more. More than what we learned in schools! As much, and as far back as we can get! Where was the very first fight over speech? Who was it between?
Many believe early B.C. democracy in Athens, Greece is where free speech, equality, and structured civilization began, but we CAN go further back than the written works of both Aristotle and Plato, where equality for women was the topic of debate around 300-400 B.C.
Since the Standard English version of the Bible says in Matthew 12:36: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,” it is safe to assume there are many who would believe that this biblical example IS the earliest prohibited speech.
Those with a different mindset can even theorize that it goes as deep and primitive as lions killing one another for roaring around the leader of the pride during mating season.
As far as humans are concerned though, the earliest record of prohibited speech may be found in 1750 BCE cuneiform script that describes the law during Babylonian times. Number 127 of The Code of Hammurabi: Hammurabi’s Code of Laws reads: “If any one “point the finger” (slander) at a sister of a god or the wife of any one, and can not prove it, this man shall be taken before the judges and his brow shall be marked.”
Perhaps these other parts of global history should be taught with a little more rigor to help the younger generation learn to appreciate why we safeguard our freedom of speech, and why they should be more conscious of words and how they use them.