For the longest time, I’ve had this lofty, romantic (you might even say quixotic) ideal to finally, once and for all, get the world to understand how free speech and the First Amendment work. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying my loyal readers don’t understand. It’s just that there are a lot of folks (most notably the President of the United States), who obviously don’t grasp the subject. So in the interest of education, what say we play a little game of, “Is this a violation of free speech and/or the First Amendment?”
An unnamed social media platform (whose name rhymes with “mace brook”), deletes the accounts of a number of people who post certain political points of view, or conspiracy-theory-ish content. Is “mace brook” violating these peoples’ right to free speech.
No. As a matter of fact, free speech worked perfectly. The people posted their opinion online, the online platform decided it didn’t want to publish such things and that’s that. You’re allowed to say or write whatever you want. However, no one is required by the First Amendment (or anything else in the Constitution, or common sense, for that matter), to broadcast or publish what you say or do. The First Amendment says the government cannot stop you from expressing yourself. The government didn’t here, so free speech and the First Amendment are not violated in the least.
How about this?
An unnamed cable news host (whose name rhymes with say, “Smucker Farlson”), says something on his show that ticks gay people off, so gay rights people organize a boycott of the sponsors of Mr. Farlson’s show. Are they trying to deny him free speech?
Again, no. In fact, free speech and the First Amendment worked perfectly once again. Farlson voiced his opinion, the people he angered reacted and the government didn’t try to stop either action.
Or what about this?
A senator introduces a bill that would ban the sale and distribution of a book that espouses hatred for America and Christianity. Is this a violation of the First Amendment?
Oh, yes indeed! The First Amendment begins, “Congress shall make no law …” and there’s nothing in there that even insinuates, “Unless it’s deemed unpatriotic or un-Christian.”
Are you beginning to get the picture? Let’s try a tricky one …
A senator introduces a bill that if passed, would abolish the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, because he claims neither he nor his constituents want their tax money to be used to display and/or publish art or literature they might find objectionable. Is this a violation of the First Amendment? Is this a violation of free speech?
Actually, this isn’t tricky at all. It most definitely is NOT a violation of the First Amendment or free speech. The good senator and his constituents are practicing consumerism, not censorship. The good senator’s bill doesn’t call for a ban on objectionable material, it’s merely saying neither he nor his constituents want their tax money to be used to display said material.
So you see, when you get right down to it, free speech is quite simple. The First Amendment is there to prevent the government from censoring or otherwise denying free expression. It absolutely, positively, unequivocally does not protect you from being fired by your employer for voicing a political opinion or from people reacting negatively should you say something controversial, and it certainly doesn’t require anyone to publish or broadcast your expressions.
One last one …
A letter to the editor appears in a local paper, calling a columnist for that paper names, insinuating he’s stupid, and threatening subscription cancellation and boycotts should said columnist’s column not be terminated. Is that a denial of free speech? Is that a violation of the First Amendment.
Of course not! But hey, what’d I ever do to you?
Craig Carter is an Ontario resident and can be reached in care of The Argus Observer, 1160 S.W. Fourth St., Ontario, OR 97914. The views and opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those of the Argus Observer.