Now that we’ve once again celebrated our nation’s independence, let’s look at one of our most fundamental rights: Freedom of speech.
It’s tempting to take this right for granted, but it is under attack in a big way.
Specifically, there is growing acceptance of the idea that if speech hurts someone’s feelings then it must be suppressed.
Right now in Finland, for example, a Christian member of Parliament faces six years in prison for “hate speech” because she shared her views on homosexuality.
“I don’t think I’ve been guilty of threatening, slandering [or] disparaging any population group,” she responded. “These [statements] are all about what the Bible teaches about marriage and sexuality.”
In Canada, a 2017 law (Bill C-16) could send someone to jail for refusing to use the pronoun preferred by a transsexual.
“It could happen,” lawyer Jared Brown told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation when asked about the possibility of jail time for violating the law. “Is it likely to happen? I don’t think so. But, my opinion on whether or not that’s likely has a lot to do with the particular case that you’re looking at.”
Even if the possibility were slight, it’s abhorrent to imagine someone going to jail for declining to engage in compelled speech.
Sadly, a 2017 poll by the libertarian Cato Institute found that 51 percent of Democrats favor such a law here.
Fortunately, we have the First Amendment, which gives Americans more confidence in our right to speak freely, though much of the world doesn’t understand it.
Look what Prince Harry, one of our newer residents, had to say back in May: “I’ve got so much I want to say about the First Amendment; I still don’t understand it, but it is bonkers.”
That’s fine; he doesn’t have to understand our liberty. After all, when our Continental soldiers fought and died for that liberty, they did so to free us from the unjust rule of Prince Harry’s relative, George III.
But another George — Orwell —, whose work offers great insight on the dangers of unchecked government power, said this: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
Another George — Washington — said, “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
In the Internet age, protecting free speech is more complicated because it’s not just governments doing the censoring, it’s also big-tech giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter.
As a Wall Street Journal op-ed stated earlier this year, “Conventional wisdom holds that technology companies are free to regulate content because they are private, and the First Amendment protects only against government censorship. That view is wrong: Google, Facebook and Twitter should be treated as state actors under existing legal doctrines. Using a combination of statutory inducements and regulatory threats, Congress has co-opted Silicon Valley to do through the back door what government cannot directly accomplish under the Constitution.”
And while conservatives justifiably complain about big-tech censorship, all are threatened.
As that same article (published while Donald Trump was still in office) pointed out, “Liberals should worry too. If big tech can shut down the president, what stops them from doing the same to Joe Biden if he backs antitrust suits against social-media companies?”
In short, let’s remember what the late Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas warned: “Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.”
Contact Bart Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.