Recently there has been a spate of stories about differences of opinion that have led to cries of outrage and people being offended. A story on the Des Moines Register website about public outcry over Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers buying advertising that offended religious persons, is such an example. However, nowhere in the Constitution do I see a sensibilities clause; in other words there is no freedom from being offended.
I will grant you there is a big gap between a difference of opinion and outright hate speech. In other words, I do believe that we have to be held accountable for our words when they are intentionally hurtful and leads to harm to another person.
But that does not mean that when my tender sensibilities (about the Chicago Cubs, for instance) are violated by a person whose opinion is polar opposite to mine (say a White Sox fan), I have the right to have the person from airing it.
The sticking point is how far in polite society do we let things go? Are the apparently politically motivated disruptions at health care town hall meetings (from both sides) offensive? Sure. Should they cause meetings to be stopped? Heck no. Just like in any circumstance where a heckler gets overly disruptive, the person should be shown the door. But the discussion should go on.
The fact that there are Barbarians at the gate should not keep discourse from occuring. And the same goes for advertising. The ad campaign that Atheists have paid for that has ruffled the feathers of folks in Des Moines all the way up to Chet Culver should be countered. But how about it being countered by folks choosing to not ride the bus or to take out an ad that is pro-religion?
There is no doubt that how each of us views the world could offend another person, but that doesn't mean we aren't entitled to voicing our opinion. The most useful thing that comes out of free speech is the intellectual exercise of defending our beliefs. If we have no faith in what we believe or have no basis in facts, perhaps the best lesson is we change our position.