Independence Day reminds me of many of the freedoms we enjoy in this country. One of those freedoms that has been on my mind recently is the freedom of speech. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech….”

In an election year, we will have the opportunity to hear many speeches and debates from candidates who are trying to attract voters and distinguish themselves from their opponents. In recent months we have also seen various restrictions on speech levied by judges and campus administrators. Over the years, the courts have ruled on various intricacies of what is considered free speech, such as flag burning or yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. I suspect they will face many other challenges in the current climate of gag orders and campus protests. Despite the outcome of each case, the premise remains solid, people have the right to express their opinion.

In January 1941, as World War II in Europe and Asia grew more intense, President Franklin Roosevelt delivered a State of the Union address to encourage citizens to back the increasing U.S. efforts to support our allies. In his speech, Roosevelt said, “In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.”

Pictures often convey more than words can express, and one of the finest artistic expressions of this freedom is Norman Rockwell’s famous oil painting “Freedom of Speech”, which appeared in the February 20, 1943 edition of The Saturday Evening Post. Norman Rockwell seized this opportunity to depict on canvas Roosevelt’s vision for the world through the creation of his “Four Freedoms” series. The famous Freedom of Speech painting depicts a gentleman standing and speaking at a public meeting, while the people in the crowd give him their undivided attention. There is no indication on his face or the face of the other characters in the painting that he is sharing views that are supported or opposed by others in the room, simply that he is being given the opportunity to share his opinion in an open forum.

Our country and communities face many challenges that will require thoughtful debate. Local, state, and federal governments will perpetually debate the issue of appropriate taxation. Well-meaning people on either side of the issue will view the same level of taxation as both insufficient and excessive. A national-level issue that is receiving significant attention right now is the very complex issue of immigration. There are no easy answers or quick fixes to the challenges created by our current immigration laws and the level to which they are enforced or ignored by various agencies of government in numerous communities. Exercising civility while showing your personal support, opposition or passion for a particular point of view, creates an opportunity for dialogue and strengthens freedom of speech.   

As a country and community, it is important that we exercise our freedom of speech in a manner that is respectful of the opinions of others. One writer described the theme of Rockwell’s painting as “civility,” which is clear from the respect and attention the speaker is receiving from his fellow citizens.” In the pursuit of civil discourse on a variety of issues, despite what you may observe in the behavior of others, we would do well to follow Abraham Lincoln’s advice, “We should be too big to take offense and too noble to give it.” As you hear opinions on various issues that contradict your own, take the opportunity to listen carefully and try to understand their perspective. When you think less about how you will respond and more about the words being shared by others, you may come to a better understanding of the issue.   So what does this have to do with philanthropy? On most issues, there are charitable groups and organizations on both sides of the issue. As you consider the organizations you want to support, seek out those organizations that promote civility rather than hostility. Supporting charities that express opinions and values that you wish to promote, with a measure of civility, humility and grace may be your next best opportunity to give well.