Free Speech: From the Horse’s Mouth (and it depends on which horse)

Here’s a simple explanation against the argument that the impeachment hearing violates the former President’s First Amendment rights.

If a police officer says, in a speech, that he only arrests black people because they commit the most crimes, he may have a first amendment right to say it, but it would clearly violate his duties as a sworn officer.

If a doctor says, in a speech, that he won’t treat Jews because they killed Jesus Christ he may have a first amendment right to say it, but it would clearly violate his Hippocratic oath and licensure as a doctor.

If I say, in a speech, all women should obey the men in their lives because men know better (I would, of course, say this silently in the presence of my wife and daughter) I may have a first amendment right to say it, but it would clearly violate common sense.

Each example may be constitutionally protected and, more important, few people would pay attention to the point of the pronouncements, but they would be rightfully concerned about the context and position of the person making them. (Except mine, of course, my wife and daughter would just ignore me.)

The difference is a police officer, doctor, or any other person can hold and express anything they like when acting as private citizens if they act within the law. If they translate these protected speech statements into actions in their employment or position, there are legal consequences.

The President of the United States is never a private citizen while he holds the office. Everything he says, he says as the President and it implies infinitely more significance than statements from ordinary American citizens.

If the President enjoyed unfettered First Amendment rights, then he could announce an intention to fire nuclear weapons against the county of East Japeepee with no concern for the reaction of the East Japeepeeians.

If they launched a pre-emptive strike against us, it would be because they hate our freedom and our First Amendment rights.

Which leads us to the Impeachment trial. Getting past the raw emotions of what happened that day (as a former police officer I felt only rage for the attack on those officers and, frankly, I am in awe of their restraint. Some officers I know might have opened fire at such a threat) we need examine the President’s speech in the context of not just that moment but with the understanding of what led the crowd there in the first place.

A Lie

A bold faced fabrication intended to subvert the Constitution.

And more critically, a lie spread by the President of the United States that the election was stolen from him. And if one wants to argue the President of the United States can lie to the American public because he has a First Amendment right to do so, one risks the consequences.

Consequences that played out in the halls of Congress.

Or if one argues that it is not a lie if the President believed it to be true, somehow delusional does not seem a good characteristic for the President of the United States.

The speech by the President on January 6th wasn’t the reason the mob attacked the Capitol; it was merely the starter’s gun signaling the beginning. Mr. Trump lit the fuse on the artillery he had primed, loaded, and aimed at our country.

One last point, and this is telling, from the moment the mob stormed the Capitol until the President made any effort to dissuade the mob, he did nothing for hours. Hours while US Capitol Police officers were being attacked, assaulted, and murdered by a mob he unleashed.

Even if one accepts the premise that the President never intended his speech to spark an attack, he did nothing to mitigate it once it began. Actions, or in this case inactions, speak volumes. If he never intended them to attack Congress, why did he do nothing?

One can draw a reasonable inference from the President’s failure to take swift and bold action.

Can you imagine what would have happened had not the US Capitol Police and the Secret Service acted as quickly as they did to protect the Vice President and the members of Congress? There is no doubt in my mind that the frenzied crowd—driven by weeks of the President’s own exhortations that the Vice President could change the results of the election, had they seized Mr. Pence (after the Secret Service ran out of ammunition killing who knows how many)—would have executed the Vice President and anyone else the President sent them after.

Now there’s a legacy of Making America Great Again one could point to with pride.

As part optimist, I believe there is a chance that enough Senators will do what’s right as opposed to what is politically expedient. As part realist, I have little reason to believe it will happen.

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A Pendulum Swings, But Not Too Far

Since the January 6th attempted insurrection by violent supporters of Mr. Trump, incited by a host of lies about the Presidential Election, the pendulum has changed direction. Many of those involved have been arrested, lost their jobs, and been the object of scorn and derision.

Much of this, for those who broke the law, is well deserved. Mr. Trump, touting his strong on crime positions of the past four years, often proselytized swift and significant punishment for lawbreakers. Those words may now come back to haunt him and those who were blinded by his subtle yet real calls for violence against the government. One thing Mr. Trump is good at is obfuscation of truth to serve his purpose. No one will ever dissuade me from the belief that Mr. Trump had every intention of inspiring that crowd to do exactly what they did.

Yet our reaction need be one in direct contradiction to Mr.Trump’s blatant incitement. There is a danger here in our substituting one philosophy for another and punishing those who disagree with us, that is his approach not ours.

Every single person who attended that rally supporting Mr. Trump had the absolute right to do so. Expressing one’s opinion in protest and free speech is the very foundation of government. Even when that speech is permeated with lies and intentional misrepresentations.

No matter how distasteful such political positions may be, no matter how antithetical they may be to the spirit of America, they are protected under the First Amendment from governmental restrictions or intrusions.

It is when they cross the line into violent acts that the law must apply.

While they may be well within their right to do so, if a company or other organization terminates an employee for their beliefs, for their exercise of their constitutional rights, for expressing an opinion outside of the workplace, absent any criminal act, it comes dangerously close to creating an atmosphere of fear.

As to those who took it beyond peaceful protest, you made your choice, and you must face the consequences. I know many of those who stormed the Capitol building took great delight in many of Mr. Trump’s forceful statements on punishing those who break the law. They just never thought it should apply to them because they bought into the lies of a charlatan.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing under the name, S.G. Tallentyre, in her biography of Voltaire wrote the following line (which is often incorrectly attributed to Voltaire underscoring the need to research truth)

In The Friends of Voltaire, Hall wrote the phrase:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”

The line illustrated Voltaire’s philosophy, and it is one we should embrace.

I do not understand how anyone could support Donald Trump. I didn’t understand it in 2016, and I see the past four years as further evidence of his Presidency being the biggest mistake ever in our history.

But seventy-five million Americans voted for Mr. Trump. Seventy-five million. Because Mr. Trump lost the election does not mean they must be silent on their positions. It does not mean they must abandon their positions. It does not mean they cannot work toward 2024 for a Republican candidate to challenge President-elect Joe Biden.

It does mean they must accept the results of the 2020 election and exercise their rights of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly within the law.

As long as they do that, then while I would disagree with their philosophy I would defend to the death their right to say it.

And I would expect, as Americans, they would do the same. It is what makes America great and always will.

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JEBWizard Publishing (www.jebwizardpublishing.com) is a hybrid publishing company focusing on new and emerging authors. We offer a full range of customized publishing services.

Everyone has a story to tell, let us help you share it with the world. We turn publishing dreams into a reality. For more information and manuscript submission guidelines contact us at info@jebwizardpublishing.com or 401-533-3988.

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An Inviolate Freedom of the Press: If We Can Keep It

Original intent is an issue often argued in matters regarding the Constitution. Usually it is in regards to the Second Amendment. But today we face a more serious challenge.

One that strikes at the very heart of our freedom; Governmental intrusion on Freedom of the Press and misunderstanding the faith of the founding fathers in the ability and obligation of the public to be trusted with the power of a free press.

What was their intent with Freedom of the Press and how does it apply in the world of instant, continuous news cycle and social media networks? Therein lies the brilliance of their genius, it still applies without any modification or caution.

One of the most powerful forces propelling the success of our form of capitalism is the free market. If there is a need, someone will fill it. When Congress, under the pretext of seeking fairness and impartiality in the press, deigns to intervene in what a media outlet publishes or withholds, it should give us all pause.

Congress often finds ways to intervene in matters best left to individual choices and when they do the results are almost always disastrous. In their attempt at forcing the hand of sites like Facebook, Twitter, and others on what they should publish or restrict, they’re are setting the groundwork for Big Brother control of the press and social media.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et.al., are not government agencies. They can, and should, be able to make their own determination on what they allow or deny on their sites. Let the market decide if it will support such policies, not the partisan, agenda-driven politics of ambitious members of Congress,

I wonder if Congress would be holding hearing on forcing social media to post recipes for bombs and manifestos calling for their use on the Capitol? Likewise, they have no business making any determination or inquiries absent clear violations of the law. And even then it is a matter for the FBI or local authorities.

That some media outlets lean one way or the other is irrelevant. Nor should the choices of what to publish or what to eliminate, except in the most extreme of circumstances, ever be the concern of the Government.

I think the founding fathers were clear in their intent that government has no place in regulating the press. We as a people value more an unrestricted press than any perceived harm such freedom may pose. Secrets are never more important than what they may seek to protect, no matter how well intentioned.

George Washington Quote on Freedom of Speech Print

That one social media site chooses, for whatever reason, to restrict certain items from their site in no way prevents some other site from filling that need. Such questions are best left to the market demand.

But it does raise issues of credibility, verification of material, and trustworthiness of sources. In the matter of the Hunter Biden laptop, a prudent publisher might rightfully be concerned with spreading unverified allegations. And such decisions should be left to the publisher themselves and the demand of the market. Another site might see an obligation to present such material and let those who see it decide.

In either case, the government should have no say.

Once the government starts to determine what you must publish, it is a short jump to their telling you what you cannot publish. And therein lies great danger.

And to those who fail to see the danger in any government interference with freedom of the press, history offers a valuable lesson. Here’s a most applicable warning from someone who understood well the need to eliminate such freedom and went on to do so;

“It is the press, above all, which wages a positively fanatical and slanderous struggle, tearing down everything which can be regarded as a support of national independence, cultural elevation, and the economic independence of the nation.”
― Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

But this freedom of the press, like the other rights guaranteed by the Constitution, comes with responsibilities. Just like one cannot yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater, one must educate oneself to recognize the elements of truth or the veil of lies often hidden within published material.

Let’s take, for example, satire. That someone is so ignorant or blind as to fail to recognize satire does not render the publication of such material unlawful, nor should it trigger governmental intrusion.

Jonathan Swift, in his A Modest Proposal, suggested using the children of the poor as a source of food for the wealthy and income for the destitute as a satirical criticism of the wretched state of many of his fellow Irishman. Just because some might fail to see the satire doesn’t justify government prohibiting it’s publication. Particularly when the criticism was directed at the government.

The founding fathers put absolute faith in the ability of the American people to recognize the truth from the lies. They believed literate Americans, who were almost exclusively white and male, could be trusted.

We’ve become more inclusive, a good thing, and better educated, also a good thing, but I wonder if we would instill the same confidence in the founding fathers. It would seem many, if not most, of our fellow Americans are blinded by confirmation bias, incapable of seeking a balanced perspective.

And that may well be our demise.

Once the government starts to determine what you must publish, it is a short jump to their telling you what you cannot publish. And therein lies great danger.

Author

The intent of the founding fathers cannot be expressed better than in their own words…

I am… for freedom of the press, and against all violations of the Constitution to silence by force and not by reason the complaints or criticisms, just or unjust, of our citizens against the conduct of their agents.

Thomas Jefferson

Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

James Madison

As unbalanced parties of every description can never tolerate a free inquiry of any kind, when employed against themselves, the license, and even the most temperate freedom of the press, soon excite resentment and revenge.

John Adams

The freedom of the press should be inviolate.

John Quincy Adams

Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.

Thomas Jefferson

This last quote by Jefferson is the most insightful, and illustrative, of all. When the founding fathers spoke of freedom of the press they were addressing its necessity to Americans who could understand, evaluate, and measure the words they read, and the importance of making sure all had the capabilities to do so.

While Jefferson, and many others of his generation, would have denied such literacy to blacks, both slave and free, and women, I believe, were they among us today, they would champion literacy for all. Jefferson and the others trusted the public to be deliberate in their reading and to separate the sensational and provocative falsehoods from the truth.

This required some level of education, some level beyond mere literacy, rising to the level of reason and intelligence. Such understanding arises only when one is able and willing to look at issues from all perspectives.

The courts have also recognized the primacy of a free and unfettered press.

Without a free press there can be no free society. That is axiomatic. However, freedom of the press is not an end in itself but a means to the end of a free society. The scope and nature of the constitutional guarantee of the freedom of the press are to be viewed and applied in that light.

Felix Frankfurter

Many distinguished lawyers also argue the necessity for protecting such freedoms from all attempts to silence or limit them.

We don’t have an Official Secrets Act in the United States, as other countries do. Under the First Amendment, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of association are more important than protecting secrets.

Alan Dershowitz

With this powerful history of support for a free and unencumbered press comes our responsibility to defend such freedom.

We should never accept, carte blanche, assertions in print, online, or in any other media format simply because they concord with our opinions or beliefs. It is incumbent on us all to recognize it is the diversity of our opinions and perspectives that make us great and to endeavor to understand opposing positions.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”

Evelyn Beatrice Hall in The Friends of Voltaire (often misattributed to Voltaire himself)

We should never sit idly by while Congress, for questionable partisan motivations, moves in any way, shape, or form to limit the media or insist on any control over the content thereof.

No one side has all the right answers and the only way to insure all perspectives are expressed is through a free press protected from any governmental intrusion.

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JEBWizard Publishing (www.jebwizardpublishing.com) is a hybrid publishing company focusing on new and emerging authors. We offer a full range of customized publishing services.

Everyone has a story to tell, let us help you share it with the world. We turn publishing dreams into a reality. For more information and manuscript submission guidelines contact us at info@jebwizardpublishing.com or 401-533-3988.

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Freedom of Speech: The FIRST Amendment

I do not write this piece without trepidation. I hope to convey the point without feeding into the adversarial generalizations some believe this requires. I seek to cause no harm to the many sincere people who support the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the worthwhile goals of changing the impact of implicit bias within society.

Yet, the reason the founding fathers made Freedom of Speech the First Amendment was to ensure the government silences no one for holding or expressing an opinion. Even if that opinion criticizes an important movement for change in America.

More so, because that is the very basis for any progress; change tempered by a rational discussion of all aspects.

The founding fathers believed in the ability of Americans to discern the valid and righteous from the vain and vicious. It would seem we have forgotten the goal of the First Amendment in our pursuit of finding solutions to the issues raised by organizations such as BLM.

I was troubled by a news story out of Vermont reporting the suspension of a school principal for a post done on her personal time expressing her opinion about the BLM.

Tiffany Riley wrote:

“I firmly believe that Black Lives Matter, but I DO NOT agree with the coercive measures taken to get to this point across; some of which are falsified in an attempt to prove a point. While I want to get behind BLM, I do not think people should be made to feel they have to choose black race over human race. While I understand the urgency to feel compelled to advocate for black lives, what about our fellow law enforcement? What about all others who advocate for and demand equity for all? Just because I don’t walk around with a BLM sign should not mean I am a racist.”

The School board in Mount Ascutney held an emergency meeting, suspended Riley and now seek to terminate her. The board’s statement characterized Riley’s post thusly,

the ignorance, prejudice, and lack of judgment in these statements are utterly contrary to the values we espouse as a school board and district.”

This trend to suppressing those who would dare criticize the BLM movement, for it is happening all over the country, is as dangerous as the very issues BLM seeks to address.

It was once the majority of the country that tried to suppress voices such as BLM and other aspects of the equality movement, using all the tools of censorship and oppression to oppose racial justice.

Now, it would seem, the standard for Free Speech is “as long as it is in keeping with the most politically correct movements.”

Instead of taking the opportunity for a public discussion of Ms. Riley’s opinion—perhaps exposing implicit bias and teaching a valuable lesson to the students in the school and across the county—the school took the politically expedient way out.

This is not about BLM and the many valid changes they seek to bring about. But I find it troubling that an organization using the power of Free Speech to bring about change would demand to be exempt from criticism, or that political entities would seize on the moment to restrict Freedom of Speech.

Failing to unequivocally support Freedom of Speech is a danger to all. Groups like BLM are often the catalyst for progress. As Margaret Mead said,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

But this should not make them immune from criticism.

I also find it troubling that an organization such as BLM, which rightfully argues blacks as a group are targeted solely on the color of their skin, would apply the same generalizations to all Police Officers.

Those who seek the protection of the First Amendment as a means to redress their grievances cannot deny it to others. Nor should they stand idly by when it is.

Ensuring justice and equality for all is a righteous cause. But seeking ways to bring it about does not immunize you from criticism. Fair treatment need be applied without reservation or conditions. Leaving aside the valid institutional changes necessary within society and law enforcement, justice without equality, no matter how worthy the goal, is contradictory to change.

Whether you are a black man or woman, or a police officer wearing a badge, one need by judged by the content of your soul, your character, and your conduct, not by the actions of others who happen to belong to the same group.

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Freedom of Speech*(*Conditional, of course)

In Muslim culture, they greet one another in this way.

 “As-salaam Alaykum,” meaning “Peace be upon you” and answered by “wa ʿalaykumu s-salām” meaning “and peace be upon you too.” (Apologies if I got the spelling wrong)

What’s wrong with that? Almost sounds Christian.

In the America of today, using such a greeting might prompt a visit from the FBI when your fellow Americans suspect you of being a terrorist. We fear the unfamiliar despite our claims of embracing all colors, creeds, and cultures.

Freedom is relative in America these days. While most Americans support Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion, many attach a condition to these cherished rights.

Look to the headlines and the evidence of conditional toleration is everywhere.

Opinion pieces are rife regarding the newest members of Congress, Muslims. Where is the religious toleration and why is their religion significant? I mean what could happen next, Atheists? Religious toleration only goes so far, we tolerate Christian faiths, perhaps even Jews-but not too many, you know what happens when they take over-but Muslims? There goes the neighborhood.

We can’t have it.

Freedom of religion, as enshrined in the Constitution, is unambiguous. The 4000 plus religions in the world are free to practice their faith as long as they harm no one or refuse to tolerate the different religious practices of others.

Simple, right? It would seem not. Intermixed with Freedom of Religion, which includes Freedom from Religion, is Freedom of Speech.

Once again there is a difference between what we say, or point to in the Constitution, and what we practice in our daily lives. Professional athletes take a knee to highlight persisting racism within this county and we rebuke, threaten, and call them un-American.

What is more American than taking a stand to right a wrong? What is more emblematic of American courage than to stand against evil? But even if you disagree with their method, which I found ineffectual, you must support their right to such expression.

If you argue that everyone must stand for the National Anthem out of some sense of respect for the hard-fought freedoms most of us enjoy, you’ve missed the point.

Being a product of the 60s, I lived through the years of violent antiwar protests, antigovernment upheavals, and civil rights riots. My parents’ generation looked on those protesters as un-American. Yet President Lyndon Johnson saw the need for sweeping civil rights legislation, the Great Society, to right many wrongs highlighted by the protests.

Despite Dr. Martin Luther King’s plea for nonviolence, decades of rage over racial disparity coupled with an ill-conceived and unnecessary war in Viet Nam drove the country to the boiling point.

Yet we survived.

Today, conditional toleration threatens Freedom of Speech. We need zealously guard free expression, even when we find ourselves in complete disagreement with the message.

Think about this for a moment. During the war in Viet Nam, many considered antiwar protesters to be anti-American. If that’s the case, then to be pro-American is to be Pro-War? Such sentiments carried over to the endless conflict in Iraq.

I find that opposing war is un-American to be false on its face. Americans should fight only when necessary and vigorously oppose policies to the contrary. Had such a philosophy existed in 1954, when American military advisers first went to South Viet Nam, 56,000 more Americans might be enjoying their freedoms.

To be American is to hold a wide variety of political, religious, and cultural perspectives. To be American is to accept differences in others and work together for the benefit of all.

If we want to set standards for the religion or speech we will tolerate, it is a slippery slope to losing our freedoms.

Look to the headlines and the evidence of conditional tolerance is everywhere.

Opinion pieces are rife with references to the newest members of Congress, Muslims. Where is the religious tolerance and why is their religion significant? I mean what could happen next, Atheists? Religious tolerance only goes so far, we tolerate Christian faiths, perhaps even Jews-but not too many, you know what happens when they take over-but Muslims? There goes the neighborhood.

We just can’t have it.

Freedom of religion, as enshrined in the Constitution, is clear and unambiguous. The 4000 plus religions in the world are free to practice their faith as long as they harm no one or refuse to tolerate the different religious practices of others.

Simple, right? It would seem not. Intermixed with Freedom of Religion, which includes Freedom from Religion, is Freedom of Speech.

Once again there is a difference between what we say, or point to in the Constitution, and what we practice in our daily lives. Professional athletes take a knee to highlight the persistence of racism within this county and they are castigated, threatened, and called un-American.

What could be more American than to take a stand to right a wrong? What could be more emblematic of American courage than to stand against evil? But even if you disagree with their method, which truth be told I found useless and ineffective, you must support their right to such expression.

If you argue that everyone must stand for the National Anthem out of some sense of respect for the hard-fought freedoms most of us enjoy, you’ve missed the point.

Being a product of the 60s, I lived through the years of violent anti-war protests, anti-government upheavals, and civil rights riots. My parents’ generation looked on those protesters as un-American. Yet President Lyndon Johnson saw the need for sweeping civil rights legislation, the Great Society, to right many wrongs highlighted by the protests.

Despite Dr. Martin Luther King’s plea for non-violence, decades of rage over racial disparity coupled with an ill-conceived and unnecessary war in Viet Nam drove the country to the boiling point.

Yet we survived.

Today, Freedom of Speech is threatened by conditional tolerance. We need zealously guard free expression, even when we find ourselves in complete disagreement with the message.

Think about this for a moment. During the war in Viet Nam, anti-war protesters were considered anti-American. If that’s the case, then to be pro-American is to be Pro-War? Such sentiments carried over to the ongoing conflict in Iraq.

I find the idea that opposing war is un-American to be false on its face. Americans should fight only when necessary and vigorously oppose policies to the contrary. Had such a philosophy existed in 1954, when American military advisors first went to South Viet Nam, 56,000 more Americans might be enjoying their freedoms.

To be American is to hold a wide variety of political, religious, and cultural perspectives. To be American is to tolerate and appreciate the differences others may have and to work together to bring the best of these to the benefit of all.

If we want to set standards for the religion or speech we will tolerate, it is a slippery slope to losing our freedoms.

In the Arabic world, the majority of which is Muslim, they greet each other in this way.

“As-salaam Alaykum,” meaning “Peace be upon you” and answered by “wa ʿalaykumu s-salām” meaning “and peace be upon you too.” (apologies if I got the spelling wrong)

What’s wrong with that? Almost sounds Christian.