Free Speech and the Left

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 Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.

Abraham Lincoln

One of the more refreshing aspects of the fallout in the wake of the Cairo and Benghazi embassy attacks, is the degree that it has brought out in the open the contempt that many people on the political Left have for affording constitutional protection to speech which they despise.  A case in point is Sarah Chayes.  Ms. Chayes is about as establishment Liberal as it is possible to get.  A graduate of Harvard, the offspring of Abram Chayes, and  Antonia Handler Chayes, both luminaries of the academic and political Left, she had a career as a reporter for The Christian Science Monitor and National Public Radio.  Under Obama she was a special assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Her credentials and background therefore make her opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times of special interest.  In that opinion piece she argues that the Mohammed video would not be worthy of constititutional protection because it is meant to be purely offensive and intended to provoke a violent reaction.  It therefore constitutes the equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded theater:

 

While many 1st Amendment scholars defend the right of the filmmakers to produce this film, arguing that the ensuing violence was not sufficiently imminent, I spoke to several experts who said the trailer may well fall outside constitutional guarantees of free speech. “Based on my understanding of the events,” 1st Amendment authority Anthony Lewis said in an interview Thursday, “I think this meets the imminence standard.”

Finally, much 1st Amendment jurisprudence concerns speech explicitly advocating violence, such as calls to resist arrest, or videos explaining bomb-making techniques. But words don’t have to urge people to commit violence in order to be subject to limits, says Lewis. “If the result is violence, and that violence was intended, then it meets the standard.”

Indeed, Justice Holmes’ original example, shouting “fire” in a theater, is not a call to arms. Steve Klein, an outspoken anti-Islamic activist who said he helped with the film, told Al Jazeera television that it was “supposed to be provocative.” The egregiousness of its smears, the apparent deception of cast and crew as to its contents and the deliberate effort to raise its profile in the Arab world a week before 9/11 all suggest intentionality.

The point here is not to excuse the terrible acts perpetrated by committed extremists and others around the world in reaction to the video, or to condone physical violence as a response to words — any kind of words. The point is to emphasize that U.S. law makes a distinction between speech that is simply offensive and speech that is deliberately tailored to put lives and property at immediate risk. Especially in the heightened volatility of today’s Middle East, such provocation is certainly irresponsible — and reveals an ironic alliance of convenience between Christian extremists and the Islamist extremists they claim to hate.

Interesting that she trots out Anthony Lewis to shore up her argument.  Lewis, now 85 and retired, was for decades the uber Liberal’s uber Liberal at the New York Times and regarded as a First Amendment absolutist.  Unless he is now in his dotage, one can only assume that, like many on the Left, his dedication to free speech ends when he disagrees strongly enough with what is being spoken.

The argument that Sayes is making is an old one.  It is called the Heckler’s Veto, and it has been used throughout American history to argue that speech should be suppressed because of the violent reaction it might cause.  Liberals, back when they were truly liberal, use to fight against it.  Lately they have embraced it, most notably in erecting bubble zones around abortion clinic, and banning pro-life protesters from those zones.  In the case of Christopher v. Hill,  530 U.S. 703 (2000), the Supreme Court upheld such zones 6-3.  The scathing dissent of Justice Scalia is instructive:

The Court today concludes that a regulation requiring speakers on the public thoroughfares bordering medical facilities to speak from a distance of eight feet is “not a ’regulation of speech,’ ” but “a regulation of the places where some speech may occur,” ante, at 14; and that a regulation directed to only certain categories of speech (protest, education, and counseling) is not “content-based.” For these reasons, it says, the regulation is immune from the exacting scrutiny we apply to content-based suppression of speech in the public forum. The Court then determines that the regulation survives the less rigorous scrutiny afforded content-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions because it is narrowly tailored to serve a government interest–protection of citizens’ “right to be let alone”–that has explicitly been disclaimed by the State, probably for the reason that, as a basis for suppressing peaceful private expression, it is patently incompatible with the guarantees of the First Amendment.

    None of these remarkable conclusions should come as a surprise. What is before us, after all, is a speech regulation directed against the opponents of abortion, and it therefore enjoys the benefit of the “ad hoc nullification machine” that the Court has set in motion to push aside whatever doctrines of constitutional law stand in the way of that highly favored practice. Madsen v. Women’s Health Center, Inc., 512 U.S. 753, 785 (1994) (Scalia, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part). Having deprived abortion opponents of the political right to persuade the electorate that abortion should be restricted by law, the Court today continues and expands its assault upon their individual right to persuade women contemplating abortion that what they are doing is wrong. Because, like the rest of our abortion jurisprudence, today’s decision is in stark contradiction of the constitutional principles we apply in all other contexts, I dissent.

The concept of free speech only works if the freedom is granted to all, and not merely to those that we agree with.  Many on the Left assume that they can retain their freedom while trampling on that of others, and are not shy about wishing to use government power against speech they despise. They are woefully mistaken and deeply un-American in this fundamental betrayal of the First Amendment.

 

7 Responses to Free Speech and the Left

  • MaryAnne says:

    I really would like many of these out-spoken anti-first amendment people, especially the women, to go live in a muslim country for awhile. I wish I had the money to pay for their trip. What happened to all the liberals who were up in arms when the British couple was put in a Saudi jail for being immodest on the beach? The thing I really, honestly can’t figure out is that it’s so completely obvious to me that if the muslims come to take over the United States, these liberals would be put first in the infidel line. I’ve often imagined the priority order of the infidel line. I really believe that pro-life Catholics would be last & the homosexual loving, pro-choicers would be first. Why can’t they see the obvious? They hate everything that a “normal” muslim family would like (big family, woman who doesn’t work). When I was in Jordan, I was not allowed to drive. It was recommended that I did not go sight-seeing, or even go to the store without my husband (it was a working vacation when we went). I got strange looks when I went to the hotel restaurant with just my kids for lunch. My impression when I was there, though, was that the Jordanians loved Americans, but they still have their culture & customs. So, when it all comes down to the basics, I just cannot understand why on earth any person who is from America would put their allegience to muslims, or anyone else for that matter, above the constitution. I have an acquaintance who is from France, but recently became an American. She will tell you how awful socialism is and how proud she is to be an American. She is very sad at what our Nation has been going through since Obama took office. She can see very clearly what is happening to our country & is scared.

  • T. Shaw says:

    They do not love Muslims. They hate America and our way of life.

    Free speech for me, not for thee.

    It’s okay to criticize and vilify Mormons but forbidden for Muslims because: one, Mormons don’t hate America and freedom; and two, Mormons don’t mass murder people that say things about them.

  • Mary De Voe says:

    The United Nations has long wanted a standing army, the power to tax the United States and this international criminal court, to levy taxes and arrest us if we do not pay. It talks about “economic interdependence” “narcissism”, an immature love for our First Amendment Freedoms and tries to seduce America into what the United Nations does not have, namely, FREEDOM. The United States of America is the only nation on the face of the globe that has the guarantee of Freedom.

    On American Exceptionalism: for the word “Exceptionalism” substitute the word and meaning of “SOVEREIGNTY”, as in the sovereign person who constitutes American SOVEREIGNTY. It would appear that all this “international law and comity” Is nothing more than the imposition of tribute to an unelected dictator, denying the endowed rights to the human being in existence as the criterion for the objective ordering of human rights and the Creator as the only Supreme Ruler in the world…Simply by convening an international CRIMINAL court and criminalizing any nation who refrains from submitting itself and its sovereignty to the international court, the United Nations has set itself over every nation in the world, entitling itself to supreme and uncontradicted power and authority without the mention or acknowledgement of the Creator and endower of unalienable rights to the human being. This international CRIMINAL court has made of itself the dispenser of JUSTICE, the particular realm of the author of all law, the Supreme Sovereign Being. The international criminal court has set itself up as GOD without GOD. Simply by changing the wording on law, long before anyone notices, this international criminal court will criminalize everybody and everything until it gets control of the whole world. The international criminal court will then call itself the WORLD COURT.

    In the matter of free speech in front of the abortion clinics: The pro-life people speak for all freedom, the unborn carry the genes of their fathers, who have been disenfranchised. These genes do not belong to the mother, these genes belong to the father and to destroy them is violence, as well as murder of another sovereign person. The pro-life advocates uphold the truth and rights of all persons especially persons who have not learned how to speak for themselves.

    Statesmen and politicians
    Statesmen are persons who comprehend and respect the laws of nature and nature’s God. Statesmen acknowledge the human being’s sovereign personhood, his endowed, unalienable human rights that derive from and are endowed in body and soul by “their Creator”. The statesman relies on Divine Providence to deliver and protect the innocent, the virgins, about to be born as citizens and the citizens who are born.

    Politicians are individuals who have forfeit their unalienable human rights through unlawfully denying to other sovereign persons, human rights. Human rights are unalienable rights that are endowed by their Creator, through the laws of nature and nature’s God.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour says:

    “The United States of America is the only nation on the face of the globe that has the guarantee of Freedom”

    Not quite true – “The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.” – Déclaration des droits de l’Homme et du citoyen 26 août 1789, incorporated into most European constituions

    See also the European Convention on Human Rights “1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

    2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”

  • “but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law”

    Abuses as defined by the powers that be.

    “The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”

    In other words freedom so long as the powers that be like it.

    I prefer the bracing words of the First Amendment without any ifs, ands or buts:

    “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.”

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