Free speech is a wonderful quality we have in America. However, in some cases that freedom is often abused to promote personal agendas that might cause harm to others.

The examples of such abusive occurrences are far too great to list, as there is a word limit on Citizen Columns.

The real bottom line is for readers/listeners to realize the onus is on them. They shouldn’t just accept what the individual with the bullhorn happens to say. They should investigate the facts.

Far too often the facts are hidden or obscured by the loud sound used to promote a personal agenda without disclosing what that agenda might be.

Currently, we have a far-too-long (my opinion) political campaign toward next year’s presidential election. The field is filled with numerous candidates. All of them have a bullhorn, used with only two thoughts in mind: get nominated and get elected.

I realize that is something that happens to some degree every four years, but it seems to have been expanded this time.

Recently, there has been considerable turmoil concerning the Betsy Ross flag. Much of this started when a shoe company had a design like that flag on the back of a shoe. Some individuals/groups indicated they thought that flag was a racist symbol. As usual, the shoe company caved because they were most interested in what for them is the most important color, GREEN. There is nothing more important than the almighty dollar.

Once again, where are the facts to support that opinion? Betsy Ross was a seamstress In Philadelphia. Her father reportedly was a carpenter. As nearly as I could determine, neither owned slaves nor was anyway involved in slavery. That flag was the U.S. flag during the fight for independence. While slavery did exist in the United States at that time, the flag was not a symbol of anything other than the fight for freedom from the English government. To label it otherwise is incorrect, according to our history.

Recently a column in the Morning News discussed the arrival of the first 20 slaves in Virginia and suggested that we need to read “The 1619 Project” that was produced by The New York Times. This project examined the legacy of slavery in the United States and was timed for the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved people from West Africa.

I must admit I have not read that project. According to that column in the Morning News, this project will allow us to better understand the lagging vestiges of slavery.

I have done some research, although minimal, about the history of slavery. Slavery of people in Africa reportedly began well before Columbus sailed the oceans blue in 1492. While “The 1619 Project” study might give us better insight into slavery in America, further research into the selling of people into slavery began in Africa long before that, and maybe to more fully understand the vestiges of slavery, one needs to research back further than 1619.

Over the past number of years, the use of the word "racism" has increased monumentally. In one case, a pastor in Alabama posted messages on a sign in the front of the church. On one side, it said, “A White Vote for Trump is Pure Racism.” On the other side, it said, “A Black Vote for Trump is Mental Illness.”

I fully support the right of the pastor to have his opinion. He certainly has the right to state it. But in my opinion, when he did it on a sign at the front of the church that is granted relief from taxes as a religious organization, he stepped over the line.

Neither of those statements is religious in nature, and in my opinion, each statement violates the basics of religion. Therefore, the tax relief should be terminated immediately. However, that onus is on the local, state and federal authorities In Birmingham. Free speech is not free. There are and should be consequences.

I don’t suggest I have all of the facts on any subject. I am one columnist with one opinion. Mine. I urge you to do your own research on what you hear from anyone who has access to a bullhorn, and remember what they say or write about is often one person’s opinion.

You need to confirm what they say before you accept it as fact.

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Citizen Columnist Thomas J. Sheehy retired from the U.S. Army following 26 years on active duty. He and his wife of 47 years moved to Florence in 2009. They have two sons and four wonderful grandchildren. Contact Sheehy at citizencolumnist@florencenews.com.

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