10/05/2010 04:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Failing to Distinguish What We Have a Right to Do -- From the Right Thing to Do

Among our freedoms, I have always thought that more harm was done worldwide in the name of religion than any other. However, it seems that freedom of speech (First Amendment) and gun rights (Second Amendment) are rapidly moving up the charts. Destined for argument before the Supreme Court this week is the case against the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, which protested at the funeral of a fallen Marine by featuring signs "God Hates Fags." This apparently is a regular practice for the Church. There may be a legitimate issue as to whether or not this comports with their rights of free speech, but is there any doubt that it is wrong -- that it is a cruel and despicable thing to do to a family that has sustained such a great loss?

Then there is the recent incident of a Rutger's student committing suicide because he was secretly videotaped by his roommate with another male and the video, in turn disseminated. Understandably the prosecutors are searching for ways to charge the culprits, but even if the dissemination of this video was protected free speech, can there be any question that it was the wrong thing to do?

Pastor Jones probably had an absolute right to burn the Quran as a form of protest, but other than the 30 some members of his "church," I do not think we could find anyone else in the country who thought it was the right thing to do, except possibly fanatics of like mind.

The New York Times reports that more states are allowing and more persons are availing themselves of the right to "carry loaded firearms into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol." Persons showed up at rallies where the president was speaking carrying weapons. When asked why one would bring a weapon to such a function, the reply was invariably to the effect: Because I have a right to do so! Being lawful does not require leaving common sense at the door.

Also under the banner of free speech, the president of the United States is depicted as Hitler. Political campaigns are rife with misleading, untruthful and completely false statements. I am a great believer in and staunch supporter of the First Amendment. But having the right to do something brings with it a certain responsibility for common sense and fairness. It would be impossible to codify every abuse of free speech that does not qualify as a violation. Years ago Jean Kerr wrote a book called Please Don't Eat the Daisies. As a recall (possibly faulty) she lists what her children should not do in her absence, but neglects to include not eating the daisies -- which they proceed to do. Merely because something is not specifically prohibited does not mean that it is permitted or acceptable conduct.

Because of our great respect and devotion for the rights we have, it should not be too much to ask that they be exercised in a fair and reasonable manner always mindful that others share those same rights. We must distinguish between what we have a right to do or say and the right thing to do or say.