One of the most basic and important of our freedoms is the ability say what you want with very … repeat VERY … few limitations. We understand that free speech does not entitle us to incite a riot, to slander, to bear false witness or – as Oliver Wendell Holmes put it – to yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater.
One of the major conflicts between conservatives like my self and all those left-wingers is the right to speak freely. And its most critical applications is when we grant it to those with whom we disagree – those who may even be offensive to our very core values.
Free speech was important enough for our Founders to place it in the first of the first ten constitutional amendments, better known as our Bill of Rights. Dedication to the concept was memorialized in the proclamation that “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” often attributed to Voltaire – although that has been the subject of literary controversy. No matter who said it, the point is made.
The radical left student movement centered at the University of California, Berkeley in the 1960s expanded our cultural concept of free speech. In what was dubbed the Free Speech Movement – but could have been called the F-word Revolution — hitherto offensive language was pushed into acceptability and pornography was mainstreamed.
Those 1960s radicals – who are now my age – and their liberal progeny are now leading the charge to limit free speech to the point of shutting it down in specific instances. What is most disturbing about the left’s censorship of language is that it mostly involves political speech. They do not seem to care about the vulgarity of late-night comedians, the potentially slanderous evidence-challenged accusations of women or the performances of Stormy Daniels, who, ironically, often cannot even speak when performing.
Expression of political opinions, even when unpopular or offensive, is the very centerpiece of the First Amendment. Censoring or punishing political opinion is the work of despots and tyrants, not a free people in a true republic.
That brings us to the issue of Alex Jones, as just one example. He has gained fame and fortune by being offensive to most people – and believed by a few. While he uses conservative issues as the vehicles for his act, he is not a principled – or a terribly intelligent – conservative. Having been around the conservative movement for a long time, I have yet to hear any conservative leader express admiration for Jones. Quite the contrary.
There can be universal agreement that Jones is controversial. His outrageous commentaries have gotten him booted from a number of social media platforms – including Apple and YouTube. Most recently, PayPal severed its relationship with Jones and a number of his lucrative businesses – which includes his broadcast operation and a number of online “stores” where folks can purchase everything from bumper stickers to t-shirts.
One can surely understand the feeling and the motivations, but is it really a good policy? Maybe Jones is a convenient target because he is easy to dislike for so many people – this writer included. But to restrict his right to communicate places this nation on a dangerous slippery slope.
We already see how left-wing authoritarians (but I repeat myself) are attacking our right of free speech in the public commons and on our campuses – from shouting down speakers to even denying invitations to express legitimate views. We see it in the disturbing bias that has been revealed in the management of our major social media platforms.
In each case, the owners of the social media enterprise – all liberal Democrats — cite “hate speech” as the reason for censuring communications. The problem with banning or criminalizing hate speech is that someone has to define it. If saying rude things about a group or class of people is to be censored or banned, where does it stop? I am repulsed when Black Lives Matter engages in hate speech against all police. I am offended with white supremacist and Nazi groups spew racist rhetoric. Of course, I take particular umbrage with all that hate speech against old white men that seems so consistently acceptable these days.
In justifying corporate censorship, it is noted that the First Amendment does not apply in the business space. If a waiter stands up in a restaurant and yells out how much he loves or hates President Trump, he will be heading to the unemployment line. It is one of the reasons that the NFL owners could – if they so desired — order players to stand for the National Anthem. They do not have a legal right to protest. But respecting free speech even where it is not constitutionally protected is still a good idea – as was apparently the belief of the NFL owners.
Alex Jones is obnoxious and despicable. So is the Ku Klux Klan and so is Antifa. But the answer is not to throw away your and my right to free speech to shut them down. In fact, it is better to let those on the fringe of decency have their say so that we always remember that they are out there. It is better to make the hateful extremists on both extremes social pariahs than have them do their dirty work out of view. Hate speech proliferates in private. It is to our advantage as a free society to not only allow, but to make sure it is exposed in public.
We should keep in mind that had it not been for America’s largely unfettered right to free speech, there would have been no suffragette movement to enable women to vote. There would have been no Civil Rights Movement in the south. The powers that be at those times and in those places would have had the power of government to shut them down. Without the inalienable right of free speech – even for the most offensive among us – we become just another nation that can be controlled by the authoritarians who are always among us.