Free Speech, Controlled Speech: the precipice of a new America

It is the nature of man, as a creature of comfort, to want to surround himself not only with comfortable things, but also with the comfort of conformity among those in his community. This is the driving force, I believe, in the establishment of laws, norms, and etiquette. As generations have passed, the human population has seen exponential growth and now opinions and inevitable dissent to them are as common as they are diverse. This is not a bad thing, though, as they are the building blocks of a civil society — how we shape our social structure. And what’s wrong with a little spirited debate? Nothing! That’s what, provided mutual respect is prevalent and the majority opinion does not seek to destroy dissent if unable to convert its adherents. That was the point, I contend, of the First Amendment to the US Constitution:

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.

It is a long-standing social norm that man will gather for the purposes of sharing information, addressing slights, or simply discussing current events. Archaeological evidence of this can be found in the presence of communal “halls” unearthed all over the globe. But in spite of this fact we have been the victims of conditioning to the contrary, beginning with, from of all sources: Mom and Dad. I cannot recall the sheer number of times I was told as a young adult that “it’s not polite to discuss religion or politics at parties or in public.” Really? Where, then, are concerned citizens to discuss such matters? (Mind you, there was no Internet at the time I was told this falsehood.) How may we exchange ideas and express opinions in an effort to enlighten others and ourselves if not where the people are assembled? I offer that this progressive notion was set forth generations ago in an effort to prevent people from understanding their situations, whatever they may be. Heaven forbid they might conclude that the cure for many of society’s ails can be found in Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, the US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Yet, if we do not discuss these things we will never discern the solutions. Plus, after decades of this programming, people now feel so uncomfortable with the topics of politics and religion that most have lost interest in their practice. Thus, with such a scenario laid before the reader, I will proceed to touch on a few issues chosen to demonstrate the continued, no, increased, attacks on our First Amendment rights. Fortunately, the United States Supreme Court has done a fair job of defending 1A, although usually with votes of 5 to 4 . . . a bit too close for my comfort, and sadly, accompanied by the appearance of partisanship. Lately, there has been paltry, but continued, coverage of religious freedom in the media, such as the Hobby Lobby case. I do recommend reading a very thorough article regarding the legal aspects of the case written by fellow Muckraker John Manko, located here. It is because of this coverage that I will bypass the issue of religion and focus instead on what has been eluding the public so far: attacks on freedom of speech and assembly. Anyone who knows me knows not to ask me a question unless they have plenty of time for an answer, as I firmly believe that there is no such thing as an answer that is both good and short (when it comes to politics, that is). I also fully enjoy a spirited debate in an open forum. The more open, the better, as that’s where some of the best ideas, solutions, and suggestions seem to reside. Lately though, the attacks on speech and assembly seem to have returned with a greater passion than before. While assaults of this nature are old, the weapons utilized are changing. It scares me to think that we as a society are the enablers of the attackers, and provide them with all of the tools required to manufacture such attempts to limit freedom, tools such as an absence of an informed opinion, ignorance, social media and the willingness to believe anything the mainstream media tells us. An example of one of these weapons which is currently finding public support has been disguised by the media as campaign finance reform. The idea regarding said reform is that we need to limit the amount of money a person can donate to political campaigns. Why? Because opponents to the First Amendment believe money is not speech. But I say it is! You see, how better to make a voice heard than to support a candidate for election? But let us say that I haven’t got the time to go down to headquarters and volunteer. Well, I can write a check to keep the lights on and the volunteers adequately caffeinated. What’s more, I should be able to do this for as many candidates as I so choose. Why? Because I have the right to express my opinion in any way I desire, provided that my means do not violate any constitutional law or the rights of another person. And why should campaign financing be the exclusive territory of a wealthy few the likes of George Soros, Mike Bloomberg, and the Koch brothers? In that spirit I direct you to the April 2014 ruling in McCutcheon v. The Federal Election Commission. First, some background. In 1971 Congress began to limit free speech by capping the campaign contributions made by individuals with the enacting of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). FECA mandated that an individual may make only a $2,600 donation to any single candidate in any two-year election cycle, with a maximum annual total not to exceed $30,900 and a two-year threshold of $46,200. In that case Shawn McCutcheon wanted to donate to various candidates more than what was allowed. He filed suit, claiming FECA violated his First Amendment rights, and lost when a D.C. federal court upheld the limits. McCutcheon appealed to the Supreme Court through the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act and the court sided with him. In the statement issued by the majority, Chief Justice Roberts wrote:

“the aggregate limits on contributions . . . intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to exercise ‘the most fundamental First Amendment activities.’ ”

Next, I offer the bizarre concept of “No Free Speech Zones.” Attempts to regulate where people can freely assemble are nothing new. Throughout the 1960’s universities were hotbeds of protests, both civil and violent. These protests were a great encumbrance on the daily operations of the schools, and so they adopted the practice of allowing protests in designated areas. This practice returned in the ’80s and ’90s during such events as the G8 summits and the Democratic National Convention, where protesters were moved to areas resembling corrals with high concrete walls. These pens were located several blocks from the events and effectively negated the protests. Lately, though, this practice has spread to greater and more nefarious lengths with the enacting of House Resolution 347. HR 347 was signed by President Obama in February 2013, and is a bill that not only hinders First Amendment rights, but also allows federal agents to “remove” peaceful protestors — and charge them with felonies. Wrap your heads around that: Free speech as a felony. HR 347 prohibits free speech in areas designated as “No Free Speech Zones” by the US Secret Service, with violators punishable by arrest and up to one year in federal prison. See this ACLU report. Something disturbing to keep in mind is that this bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, nor was the vote made public. The American public was not given any information prior to that vote. In addition to “No Free Speech Zones,” there have also been attempts to create “buffer zones” where people must keep a specified distance from the object of their protest. Take, for instance, the case of McCullenn v. Coakley, in which the Supreme Court, with a rare unanimous decision, struck down the Massachusetts law requiring a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics. The law was overturned because of, among other reasons, the fact that while protestors could not say a word within those 35 feet, patients and employees were free to say what they wished. Once again, the Supreme Court held the line. Now we face a new enemy: social networking. I, for one, do not have a Twitter account, nor do I ever plan on creating one. As an “old man” I guess I just don’t understand the narcissistic notion that my life is so important as to update everyone I know every time I do something. I have also been mocked for the feeling that such a thing as Twitter could and would be monitored by the government. Well . . . Our friends at the National Science Foundation have given nearly $1 million to Indiana University to develop a database named “Truthy.” The point of this is to monitor suspicious posts and what they determine to be “false or misleading” statements and ideas, as well as to detect political “smears” and something referred to as “social pollution.” Let’s examine that for a moment . . . Think long and hard about the ramifications of any particular group trolling for, basically, what they do not agree with and reporting it to say, Homeland Security. Anyone recall the Gestapo or the S.S.? Ever read anything by George Orwell? I remember reading Animal Farm and 1984 in high school and thinking that something the likes of their story lines could never happen in America. I also remember studying about Hitler’s rise to power and the outlawing of firearms, free speech, and public assembly, all of which preceded him — and thinking that that, too, could never happen here. How sadly, sadly mistaken I was. I am taken aback by the lack of outrage demonstrated by the self-indulgent, shoulder-shrugging, fatalistic American public. Here we are: facing the demise of our right to speak our mind, worship as we will, and gather in groups for the purposes of exchanging any and all opinions and ideas and what do we do? We watch reality T.V. We, as a nation, evidently care more about, and argue more strongly regarding, which sports franchises or athletes are superior. The leftist propaganda machine used to refer to religion as an “opiate for the masses,” the assertion being that if people held to the belief in a deity, they would be willing to suffer through their mortal life without complaint because of the promise of paradise in the hereafter. My friends, the new opiate is digital. It resides in our televisions, tablets, and telephones. We have become so encompassed in the world within our little screens that all we can see is what the Federal Behemoth allows. I beg of you: Look up, look around, and pay attention. We are at the precipice of a new America . . . and it isn’t a good one. Get involved or get out of the way of the few who stand for us all.