That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.
There’s been a lot of pearl-clutching and panty twisting lately on the subject of free speech, and whether the concept is dead, dying, or on life support.
This guarantee was seen as so important, so foundational, it is the very first freedom promised by the US Constitution. It, along with freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and the right to peacefully gather make up the first amendment of the US constitution. The founding fathers, fresh from colonialism, revolt, occupation, and war decided these rights should be made paramount. The very first of the bill of rights.
I know, Gentle Reader, that you are a scholar in the way of civics and have a full understanding of the right to free speech and how it applies to US citizens and implications thereof.
But sadly, not everyone does.
And even though the majority of us are under a stay at home order, unless you literally live under a rock, you will hear of or read of someone decrying the “assault” on free speech. They are convinced and try to convince you that unless we as a nation vote for a certain party, or watch a certain channel, or listen to a specific talking head, we are surely headed for calamity.
Much of the time, though, these Constitutional Cassandras have it all wrong.
If a CEO loses it on Twitter and uses those 280 characters to vent his hateful spleen and disparage women, or a has-been comedian tells a racist joke, or a sportscaster lectures followers according to the beliefs of his very judgy religion, they are gonna catch it.
They’re going to hear about it from everybody with a keyboard. They or their product might be boycotted by the offended. There’s a really good chance they’re going to be unemployed by dinnertime the next day.
But what they’re not going to be, is imprisoned by the government.
Because they didn’t break the law.
What about the blow-back from employers and the rest of the offended?
Those are the very legal consequences of private companies and the reaction of private citizens. And all of these are themselves a type of free speech.
Every person in this country can say the most offensive, hateful, and downright jerky thing they care to say—free of criminal repercussions. That, my friends, is how free speech works.
Another scenario: after eons of suffering oppression, suppression, and/or repression, a marginalized group and their supporters have had enough and protest.
They march. They chant. They carry signs, posters, and banners. They make lots of noise in order to get lots of attention, with the intent to change the status quo. They challenge authority and speak their truth to power—peacefully.
They are not anarchists, or thugs, or vandals. They are citizens exercising their right to freedom of speech. You might not agree with them, you might hate or fear them. But they are not mobs breaking the law by just speaking out.
Each one of us hears or reads opinions we don’t like every day. There are plenty of people with a website, microphone, or bully pulpit that I dearly wish would sit down and shut up, forever.
But despite how deluded or evil that I think they may be, they’re not breaking the law. So, I turn the channel, or the page, or my attention, away. That’s my right.
And the first amendment of the United States Constitution, one of the greatest documents in human history, gives them (and me) the right to sound as dumb as they (we) want.
Thanks for your time.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.