In our little county on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, a controversy has been dividing citizens for years. It involves a monument in honor of the “Talbot Boys” who fought in the Civil War, for the South. It stands on the lawn of the county courthouse, and I probably don’t need to tell you what the controversy about it is. In short, move it or keep it where it is.
But that is not what I am writing about. Quite frankly, I have lived here for over forty years and just realized what the statue was honoring during the last two. We could probably discuss why that is true, but that’s not what I am writing about.
What I am writing about is a controversy that the signs about the two sides of the issue have caused in my little town.
Oxford is a quaint little town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It has a population that hovers around 900, more in the summer. If you drive down the main street of town, you will be treated to beautiful waterfront homes which are historic, some being here since the town was the Colonial capitol of Maryland. The town used to be populated by mostly watermen and their families. Now, it has been innundated with refugees from D.C., Philadelphia, and Baltimore. They are rich refugees, buying expensive homes and bringing with them the attitudes and opinions of their former hometowns.
That has caused many new “rules” and standards to be created. After all, the rich didn’t move here to keep Oxford as it was, but to make it what they want, a small, peaceful town where they can retire. Thus, it has become a community of noise and lawn ordinances and any other ordinances they can mandate.
Now the Town Commissioners have taken on the very grave issue of lawn signs. Yes, lawn signs. Apparently, some of the citizens of Oxford don’t like the lawn signs, especially those of political nature. They don’t just want to remove them, they want to keep them from existing at all or at the very least tell people how many signs they may put up and how long they can keep them up. ( Funny, because I run through town every morning and I can honestly say the signs don’t offend me. In fact, I barely notice them.)
I have a problem with this kind of mandate. I don’t think a town commissioner or any other town official should tell you what you can put in your yard. It’s YOUR property. You own it, pay taxes on it, and take care of it. And some of us have lived here before many of these people even knew Oxford existed.
The Commissioners say that some think the signs are ugly. But, isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder? Or they say that some signs should be removed after a period of time. Does it hurt the town or the people here if my Trump sign or your Vote Democrat sign stays up after the elections are over? Either way, isn’t that just an expression of our political associations? Isn’t that freedom of speech? Is it any different from their seasonal banners? Or their signs displaying other slogans? Trust me, there are quite a few signs that people have put up around here that I don’t care for. One gentleman down the street from me has put up hand written signs about wearing a mask “or you are a dumb shit,” and ” shit winning” whatever that means. I don’t think they class up the street much, but I don’t think he should have to get rid of them.
There are those who want to compromise and set limits on how many signs a homeowner can put up or how long they can stay up. But why? Are the streets of Oxford lined with horrific signs on lawns? Are old signs littering the streets? Do tourists run the other direction because of the misguided ” Thank You Dr. Fauci” sign posted next to a house as you come into town? And how about those realtor and home improvement business signs. Is anyone deciding to buy a house elsewhere because of them? I doubt it. They probably don’t notice, much like I never noticed the “Talbot Boys” monument.
But, there is one thing for which there can be no compromise. Freedom of speech. Why? Because, like other rights granted to us by God, once you start to tinker with it, limit it, legislate it, you effectively kill it. And isn’t that what Facebook, Twitter and other social media is trying to do?
Yes, I know there are some things you should never say in public. And I know there are some signs you should not put in your yard. But that is about personal discretion and restraint. Most people can handle that on their own ( well, except for the guy down the street.)Government should not have a say.
Free speech is a center pillar of what this country was built on. It was never mean to be sanitized and comfortable for everyone. It was never meant to be restricted to certain times and days. In fact, it is supposed to be uncompromising and unfiltered. That assures that ideas will be created, shared, and developed. People are supposed to hear what is said, judge its usefulness, discard what is unproductive and keep what is productive.
The Founders had experienced censorship, and they knew that free speech was not only good for encouraging new ideas, but it also allowed people to release frustrations and anger, thus preventing violence. If people are heard, they are less likely to be violent. It’s like the vent in a pressure cooker.
Allowing free speech also means that we need to get used to hearing what we don’t like to hear. That’s hard for people nowadays since we have been trained to believe ideas we don’t like are “hate speech.” Yes, there are words that are hateful. There are ideas that are hateful. But if we never learn to deal with them and the people who say them, we never learn to toughen up and stand up for ourselves. My mother used to tell me that words would only hurt me if I let them. I think she was right.
This is something our young people need to learn.
As for Oxford, I don’t know what the Commissioners will decide. But, I know this. They will NOT shut down my free speech, no matter how much they try. I won’t compromise on that.