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GUEST COMMENTARY: Speech blessed right on, off line
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GUEST COMMENTARY: Speech blessed right on, off line

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Growing up, my husband heard his father say, “It is better to remain silent and be thought ignorant than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to know Harold DeBoer since he died long before I met my husband. However, I have found myself recalling that phrase over the years, after I had stuck my foot in my mouth or had spoken out of turn.

It has also come to mind in the course of my job when someone said or wrote something absurd. As a judicial officer, I have had 10 years to practice the skill of keeping my mouth shut and allowing people to say what they came to say when they’re in court. Not always easy.

In our times of social media, now more than ever, people seem perfectly fine “sharing” their thoughts with all of their friends on whatever site they’re on as if they are experts on a particular topic.

I’m sure you’ve seen those threads where someone made a comment, all hell broke loose and a select group of people bashed the author of the original post in the vein of setting the record straight. I admit. I’ve been sucked into reading those threads myself because it was like a train wreck. I chastised myself for wasting the time, yet I still couldn’t peel my eyes away. Typically, I’d finish reading the exchanges and think, “That’s 10 minutes of my life I’ll never get back! Jeez, Mar!”

The First Amendment under our Bill of Rights and Article One, Section 9 of the Indiana Constitution gives each one of us the right to speak freely. We can have differences in opinions about anything and we have the right to share our opinions with whomever we want whenever we want. For the past two years, I have had the privilege of speaking to eighth graders at Immanuel Lutheran School about Constitution Day.

Constitution Day is celebrated on Sept. 17 each year and judges are encouraged to spend time with students teaching them about some aspect of the U.S. Constitution. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with these young adults. I am also convinced that they have no idea how lucky they are to have these freedoms! I don’t mean that in a Debbie-downer kind of way. I just mean that our children (or grandchildren) were born into a world where it was assumed that they could speak their minds about anything.

On June 25, 2010, my stepson, Daane Adam DeBoer, was killed in Afghanistan by an improved explosive device (IED). Our family lost Daane at 24—before he really had a chance to live. He missed two of his sisters’ weddings, he missed his baby sisters' graduations from high school and college, and he missed the birth of his niece. We too missed a part of each of those incredibly special events since he wasn’t there with us.

Daane joined the Marines in the fall of 2009 to defend our rights and protect our people. Although he was a young man when it happened, Daane remembered Sept. 11, 2001, and felt compelled to join the Marines to do his part to make our country better. We were scared for him because each day the news continuously displayed the faces of the many men and women who were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. But we supported him because he was moved to serve our country.

As a Judge, I am passionate about our Constitutions. My work world revolves around due process and protecting liberties. As a member of society, I feel blessed that we live in a country where we can speak, assemble and practice whatever faith we choose. As a mother, I feel honored that my son was so devoted to preserving our freedoms that he was willing to, and did, make the ultimate sacrifice for those rights.

Daane was only one of the many men and women who died (and will continue to die) for our country. It is for this reason that I get a little testy about our Constitutional rights. I will fight like heck for them in my forum — a courtroom. And I will not stifle your right to speak or gather or pray or write because those rights are precious and should be ever guarded.

While I firmly believe that we have the right to voice our opinions, we should take a breath and think about what we circulate in our community before we hit “Enter” — especially since social media shares what you post instantaneously. Some people post what I call “less than productive” things on social media because they crave even negative attention while others get a thrill from being confrontational and whipping people up. If you are one of those people, then I highly doubt this article will impact you much. Daane DeBoer died for your ability to be that person.

But during these times of the coronavirus, isolation and fear, I hope that if you want to share your thoughts or “information” that you do so in an intelligent and responsible manner. Please fact-check before you drop your bombs on your 842 friends or followers.

We do not need to be misinformed or to have unsubstantiated rumors floating around out there in the midst of a crisis. And the more garbage we have to sift through, the harder it is to find the real information that benefits us all. Also, please give some thought to the words you choose to convey your message.

The right words can draw the reader in and educate them about your point of view. And try to be kind. Unless you have all of the information and can speak from a position of authority about it and until you’ve lived in the other person’s shoes, there is no need to be nasty. It does nothing to help. Choose your words wisely and use them for good. It’s the responsible thing to do!

Mary DeBoer is a Porter County circuit court judge. A former deputy prosecutor and superior court magistrate, DeBoer is a graduate of Valparaiso University Law School and a veteran performer of community theater. The opinions are the writer's.

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