Commenter “groundhog” asked this question in the “Hamilton” thread:
The same free speech can be trash to one person and treasure to another. The same speech you or I treasure may be considered worthless to others. And although decorum and respect are important, who gets decide when it is important enough to ignore decorum and respect?
Only the speaker, imo. Do you think otherwise?
My answer is that yes, I think otherwise.
The speaker gets to decide something, of course. The speaker gets to decide what he/she wants to say, and when and where.
And then each person who hears or reads those remarks gets to decide what to say and do in response, including his/her opinion on whether the first person was rude or obnoxious or should have kept his/her mouth shut.
There is also usually a very general public consensus within a society, as well as within different segments of that society, on what is okay and what is not. This is not completely uniform, nor is it uniform between subgroups. And it changes over time, as anyone who’s been alive as long as I have can clearly see.
Sometimes there are formal rules for each venue, as there used to be in the school system when I was a student (I assume there still are, but who knows these days?). There are rules in the workplace, as commenter “Kyndyll G pointed out here. There are also rules within each family, as well as general trends, and the trend for many decades has been for more and more permissiveness. There are basic rules for decorum in church, or at a function like a wedding. There are still rather strict rules for behavior in a courtroom; outbursts are not well-tolerated, and there is something called contempt of court. Contempt of court isn’t limited to disobeying a court order (although it can include that), but can also consist of “being rude or disrespectful to legal authorities in the courtroom,” and people may be sanctioned for such behavior by the court.
Earlier in that same Hamilton thread, commenter “groundhog” had also brought up the example of Joe Wilson, the Republican House member who yelled out “You lie!” during a speech Obama made to Congress in September of 2009. You may recall that Joe Wilson faced quite a bit of judgment after his outburst. Who got to decide whether what he did was a breach of decorum? Well, the press, the public, Obama, Wilson himself, and members of the House of which he was a member.
Here’s how it went down:
Then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel immediately approached senior Republican lawmakers and asked them to identify the heckler and urge him to apologize immediately. Members of Congress from both parties condemned the outburst. “Totally disrespectful”, said Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) of Wilson’s utterance. “No place for it in that setting or any other and he should apologize immediately.” Wilson said later in a statement:
This evening I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the President’s remarks regarding the coverage of undocumented immigrants in the health care bill. While I disagree with the President’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the President for this lack of civility.
Obama later accepted Wilson’s apology. “I’m a big believer that we all make mistakes”, he said. “He apologized quickly and without equivocation and I’m appreciative of that.”
House Democrats called on Wilson to issue a formal apology on the House floor. Wilson refused, saying in a televised interview that, “I believe one apology is sufficient.” Congressional Republicans agreed, and opposed further action. On September 15, the House approved a “resolution of disapproval” against Wilson, on 240–179 vote.
The people from Wilson’s district in South Carolina also got to make a decision. They decided to re-elect Wilson, and he’s still a member of the House.