On Free Speech

“My friend, for your three dollars a day, you have to listen to everything.” – Juror #7, 12 Angry Men (1957)

I’ve been amused by the statement made by Justice Kagan about Conservatives “weaponizing” the first amendment since I read it in a Vox article about the Janus decision earlier in the week.  The New York Times took up her mantle yesterday in this article.  The shorthand version:  when “we” use it for “our” purposes, we are defending liberty; but when “they” use it for “their” purposes, they are using it as a weapon to destroy liberty.

The First Amendment is what it is.  Speech can be used for good, or evil, or anything in between.  There are some time and place restrictions, but absent speech that incites violence or breaches the peace, the right of free speech means you can say what you want, when you want.  When you start restricting the content of speech, then the right becomes utterly meaningless, because the only speech allowed then is what is self-servingly defined as acceptable by whomever happens to be in charge.

Liberals are more and more trying to compare Conservatives with Fascists.  The Nazis definitely demonized and scapegoated people to take power.  I will concede that there are some modern parallels in the Conservative stance against immigration, particularly Muslim immigration.  Clearly, there are neo-Nazi groups which support Trump.  However, I question how much Trump or any Conservatives have actually reached out to or even acknowledged the support of any such groups, because doing so would be political suicide.  Trump is a lot of things, but he’s not stupid.  Those connections have generally been made by the media.

I can point out plenty of modern parallels in the behavior of Liberals to how the Nazi Party consolidated its power under Hitler:  1) restricting free speech (see Kagan and the NY Times article above); 2) closing businesses of anyone that spoke out against the party line (see Masterpiece Cake Shop); 3) sending roving bands of thugs to suppress opposition (see Maxine Waters and violent opposition to Conservatives attempting to speak at Cal-Berkeley); and 4) registering, then later confiscating firearms (see the whole Gun Control debate).

The thing about arguments is that if your argument is principled, you often have to argue for people you don’t agree with just as much as people you do.  If you acknowledge one group’s right of free speech, you can’t very well turn around and deny the same right to another group in similar circumstances without being hypocritical.

The ACLU has known this for decades.  They champion the rights enumerated in the Constitution – their own interpretation of those rights anyway, you won’t find them arguing for the 2nd Amendment, but I digress.  This often puts them in an awkward position as to whose rights they are defending.  Since the 1970’s, they have represented the right of white supremacists to assemble just as they have argued for the rights of  Civil Rights groups, Black Lives Matter and others to do so.  See this Vox article.

I’m sure most members of and contributors to the American Civil Liberties Union are appalled by white supremacists and what they represent, but love them or hate them, the ACLU generally stands on principle.

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