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By Forrest Hershberger
View from the Handlebars 

The Free Speech Dilemma

 

February 9, 2022 | View PDF

The Bill of Rights, the first 10 Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, outline basic rights of citizens and most importantly limits of the government.

“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. (First Amendment)”

It is clearly written what the government, Congress specifically, cannot do to limit certain freedoms. As time went on there was some clarity. If a person sits in a concert and yells “fire!” resulting in unjustified injuries, that is not covered.

But look at the basics of the First Amendment. No where does it say, speech content accepted by private business, by the government or even by your neighbor. It says “Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech.” The Amendment includes the right to peaceably assemble, and to address grievances with the government.

But here’s a possibly unexpected curve ball. The Constitution was written to limit what the government can do, and what it can limit of its citizens. It does not say what private business can do. That is done later, in limited fashion, under other laws.

The Constitution was written to put tight limits on what the federal government can and cannot do. If someone walks into a cafe and praises the achievements of his favorite political party, he or she can either be accepted, asked to respect other patrons or told to leave. Likewise, if a business chooses to display a specific political persuasion, that business has that authority, and has to be okay with customers going somewhere else if they don’t agree with the displayed politics.

Now we have businesses partnering with the message of politicians. We have a variety of censorship by companies choosing not to work with clients who go against the political tide. The reality is free speech is not always comfortable. Sometimes free speech proves how ignorant a person is. And sometimes we learn from hearing an alternate viewpoint.

If we are going to stand with the First Amendment, which we should, we need to be okay with the philosophies and conversations we agree with, and the ones we don’t. We’re at an odd place in history where celebrities and private business seem to be doing the bidding of government.

Speak against being vaccinated and you might get fired. A business can require stiffer vaccination requirements than the government. A singer can remove his list of songs from a public platform and everyone wants to know why. So many people have forgotten that this platform was once criticized for offering musicians such a small royalty for their work.

Joe Rogan and his podcast were criticized for his stance on the COVID vaccine, and later for something he allegedly said years earlier. Then Neil Young announced he was pulling his music from Spotify in protest. Young has the same rights as Rogan. So besides the social pressure of a few classic songs leaving public domain, it’s two guys having a disagreement.

Spotify recently recanted the expected removal of Rogan’s podcast, keeping him on the air.

Whoopie Goldberg has the same rights to speak as anyone from the homeless guy on the street to the power players. She was quoted, and replayed countless times, that the Holocaust was not racist; it was an example of how evil humanity can be.

She went on to say she sees racism differently because of skin color. One could say she is using the problem to answer the question. She is using the definition of racism as justification for her answer being correct.

The tough part of freedom of speech is she can, and someone on the other side of the stage can tell her to kick rocks, or take her ideas somewhere else. The thing to watch is we lack consistency; one view point is seen with shock and portrayed agony, while a similar message from the other spectrum is almost a shrug and an “Eh.”

When discussing COVD, we’re told “follow science.” How did science get where it is without a discussion of ideas and concepts?

The use and controls of speech are the outward manifestations of changing values. Control what is said publicly, and social values change.

Maybe we need to come back to what was said before. Ask the right questions. Start with why are current issues more important than an exchange of ideas.

 

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