Has anyone noticed in the past few years and that pillars of our rights outlined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights have been reduced to buzzwords?
Let’s start with the First Amendment.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
There are a couple of terms that need to be defined here.
Respecting: “regarding; concerning.”
Abridge: “to reduce or lessen in duration, scope, authority, etc.“
The First Amendment is pretty simple and direct. And it is perhaps one of our most important rights guaranteed in the founding document of our country.
So how is the “freedom of speech” being attacked? Unfortunately in a wide variety of ways. But distinctly not in the way that various political mouthpieces are claiming.
One of the most common attacks on the First Amendment today are claims that “free speech” is being censored by “big tech” companies. But this complaint comes mainly from people who were tossed off platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for proliferating dangerous lies or inciting violence. Offending posts were in categories like “Covid is a hoax,” “vaccines will kill you,” “Come to Washington on January 6th to ‘stop the steal.'”
Now with Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter and Musk coming “out of the closet” as a fan of conspiracy theories we see another side to this coin—the fallacy that all speech is protected under the First Amendment.
As pointed out in another recent piece, a 1969 decision the Supreme Court established what is called the Brandenberg Test to determine whether specific speech is protected under the First Amendment. It consists of two parts.
- The speech is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action,” AND
- The speech is “likely to incite or produce such action.”
Republican complaints of censorship against blatantly inflammatory propaganda actually run afoul of this test. And those complaining the loudest about “censorship” were those who had been tossed from social platforms for violations of those company’s rules against disinformation, incitement and hate speech. Thus, in a transparent exercise of “revenge politics” “Big Tech” is now going to be subjected to the Benghazi hearing tactic by Republicans in Congress.
The hypocrisy of this proceeding is stark. While these House Members are attacking private platforms for failing to guarantee their “free speech” rights—rights that are actually a means to prevent government interference with speech and the press—they are trying to infringe on those rights for the rest of us in a variety of ways.
Ron DeSantis in Florida is on a crusade to erase the history of slavery and oppression in his attacks on education. Florida now boasts 176 banned books. DeSantis is working to take over direct control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the governing jurisdiction and special taxing district for the land of Walt Disney World Resort because of that company’s objection to his “don’t say gay” law.
Republican lawmakers in Iowa are taking DeSantis’s example even further proposing a law to regulate nicknames in schools. Seriously.
Lawmakers in Texas proposed an even larger number of banned books. These same Texas legislators also tried to rebrand slavery as “involuntary relocation.”
Arizona Republican lawmakers are proposing a bill to charge drag performers with a felony, imprison them for up to ten years and label them as sex offenders.
Republicans are on a tear to regulate what people can see, read or hear. But stop a Republican from telling a lie or inciting violence—or an insurrection—and a scream about free speech rights will follow.
Marty Kassowitz is co-founder of Factkeepers. As founder of Interest Factory and View360, he brings more than 30 years experience in effective online communications, social media management, and platform development to the site. He is a writer, designer, editor and long time observer of the ill-logic demonstrated by too many members of the species known as Mankind. After a long history of somewhat private commentary on a subject he totally hates: politics, Marty was encouraged to build this site and put up his own analyses as well as curate relevant content from other sources.