An Invitation To Tyranny – Denial Of Freedom Of Speech
Newsletter | April 28, 2022
Our core mission at America’s Future is to educate and encourage our fellow Americans to know our nation’s history, our seminal texts, our vital ideas, and our great men and women of the past to draw on them as guides to understanding the present and chart our way forward.
In this edition of our newsletter, we reflect on a specific issue the Founding Fathers saw as central to the continued success of the Republic they founded — freedom of speech.
There’s talk in the air of late that the government might regulate or otherwise impact speech on the Internet, more specifically on social media platforms. The stated purpose of a “government-Big Tech” partnership would be to eliminate so-called “disinformation” from being circulated.
The fear, say some, is that disinformation will damage our democracy. Others note, however, that suppression of speech that enjoys First Amendment protections would destroy our democracy. As for the word “disinformation,” it’s been used a lot lately in the media. It’s a fashionable concept, but the problem of falsehood obscuring truth is hardly new. It’s as old as mankind.
Start with Genesis, the very first book of the Bible. When Eve and Adam succumb to Satan’s temptation to eat from the tree of knowledge, they are cast out of the Garden of Eden. In their fallen state, their search, like that of all humanity, is for truth and the way back to God. The path, however, is thick with falsehood and misunderstanding.
As men of faith, the Founding Fathers revered truth even as they understood human nature. They knew that men would speak falsely and some would even make a habit of it. “He who permits himself to tell a lie once finds it much easier to do it the second time,” wrote Thomas Jefferson.
What did that mean for the United States, with a government by, for, and of the people? Their opinions would be as numerous as the people themselves. Silencing some, or any, would mean respecting the liberties of some and curtailing the freedoms of others. The government would invariably privilege those whose speech it preferred while censoring those it disdained or feared. And that’s tyranny.
The Framers understood the only way forward was to ensure that everyone had their say, in the faith that truth would prevail. “Congress shall make no law,” reads the First Amendment to the Constitution, “abridging the freedom of speech.”
Certainly, the Internet provides more information than ever before but the essential issue of truth and falsehood is the same. Stripping Americans of their First Amendment rights is still tyranny.
In our Reader’s Survey this week, we ask you to weigh in on free speech, disinformation, censorship and social media. We appreciate your time and thank the thousands of readers who have responded to our surveys. Please click the button below to share your thoughts, ideas, suggestions and comments. We read them all and appreciate your thoughtful responses. Thank you!
It goes without saying that the Framers were exceptionally creative visionaries of reason. Their capacity to apply reason to an imagined future civil society was incredibly measured, considering their reasoning was grounded in what they witnessed and suffered at the hands of a tyrant.
With no template in hand, the Framers fashioned the U.S. Constitution, as amended by the Bill of Rights, into a delicate blend of competing interests – balancing the interests of governmental powers with the interests of maintaining a free society. In the end, they succeeded. On September 25, 1789, just six short months following the establishment of our system of government through the Constitution, the Bill of Rights was approved by Congress.
The import of the Bill of Rights cannot be overstated – the document protects us citizens against the heavy hands of tyranny, injustice, brutality, corruption and government overreach. Each protection, so deliberately penned by the Framers, plainly gives due consideration to the God-given rights to live with dignity, pride, and purpose.
The First Amendment, applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, prohibits governments (federal, state, and local) from enacting laws “abridging the freedom of speech.” It is markedly clear the degree of significance to which the Framers identified freedom of speech as a fundamental right for the populous to enjoy, unfettered. Not only is the phrase “freedom of speech” specifically enumerated, but it resides within the very first amendment, ensuring familiarity over other later amendments.
If a regulation targets a particular message over a similarly-situated, but competing message, under normal conditions, Courts will strike down the law in favor of both viewpoints being digested by the public. A simple example would be a state law that only allows for signs to be publicly displayed if the signage supports candidates from only one political party. No reasonable court would permit such illicit censorship. Stated another way, the dangers of this type of governmental “suppression of disfavored speech” are far-reaching, odious and intolerable by any measure.
Notably, the Supreme Court has recognized certain types of content that categorically fall outside First Amendment free speech protections. This means governments may enact laws that restrict speech if certain characterizations, respecting the content of the “speech” being regulated, are present. These categorically unprotected types of speech include, “obscenity, defamation, fraud, incitement, and speech integral to criminal conduct.”
But it is up to the public to pay close attention to free speech issues percolating around the country. History tells us that the metes and bounds of freedom of speech are not set in stone.
The ultimate power of every American citizen that holds government accountable is our vote. Primary elections are ongoing across the nation and November 8th is around the corner. Be responsible and ready to cast your vote. Make sure you are registered and that your voter registration is accurate and up-to-date. Encourage your family and friends to do the same. If government is to be held to account, it will be up to all Americans to exercise their right to vote.
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