A commonsense decision for free speech rights
“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.”
If asked 5 years ago, we would have said the most sacred and untouchable natural liberties enumerated in the Constitution is the freedom of speech. It seemed like a no-brainer. It is the right that all other rights stem from. The ability to make a statement. A statement about religion. A statement about government. A statement about privacy.
In recent years a disturbing trend has appeared where American citizens, somehow brainwashed into irrational thought, think this freedom is sometimes a bad idea. Words can hurt feelings. Make us feel “unsafe” or “triggered”. Words can lead to political movements that are unacceptable. Words, when strung together improperly can even been seen as mis-dis-mal information. God forbid! (My mention of God is not an endorsement of any religion or a claim that there even is a God.)
We didn’t see this censorious opinion rising in the United States. We definitely didn’t see that coming from the supposedly “liberal” side of the aisle. (liberal defined 1. willing to respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas. 2. relating to or denoting a political and social philosophy that promotes individual rights, civil liberties, democracy, and free enterprise.) But here we are. Our government, under President Biden, and to a lesser degree President Trump, has been contacting social media companies and “pointing out” speech that it finds problematic. It is very concerned with incorrect information and the harm it may cause.
Even if the government was truly a benevolent force this is disturbing. The government appears to be, for lack of a better term, dumb. It makes errors at a prodigious rate and has no business telling the average American what to think and say in the modern public forum of social media. It certainly does not have the right to do that as clearly delineated in the First Amendment.
Which brings us to the gift given to America on the 247th anniversary of its birth. Two enterprising state attorneys general saw the dangerous road that the federal government was going down and spoke out. They used their legal acumen to bring a lawsuit against “Joseph R Biden et al” requesting an injunction to stop the federal government from communicating with social media companies to request or coerce the removal of particular speech. They used examples such as the government suppression of the Hunter Biden Laptop story, the suppression of the COVID-19 lab leak theory, the suppression of speech about vaccine efficiency, the suppression of election concerns, the suppression of parody posts of government officials (does it get any more Stalinist than that?), and suppressing negative posts about the state of the economy to prove that the government was violating the First Amendment.
This lawsuit found its way to the court of Judge Terry A. Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. In a well thought out and well written 155-page decision, interspersed with quotes from dangerous radicals such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, Doughty spells out the reasons for the injunction. The federal government had hundreds of meetings with social media companies about misinformation. It flagged thousands of First Amendment protected statements for potential censorship to those companies. The government cajoled, it threatened, it pestered these social media companies to comply with its simple “requests”.
The government’s argument to these allegations was that it was just pointing out problematic posts and the companies made their own decisions. With the removal of USC Section 230 being discussed in Congress and the verbiage of the communications between government employees now public, it is clear that this is a false argument. The Federal Government was impinging on the freedom of speech.
Judge Doughty correctly opines that, “The question does not concern whether speech is conservative, moderate, liberal, progressive, or somewhere in between. What matters is that Americans, despite their views, will not be censored or suppressed by the Government.” He is careful to point out that the government still has the right and the obligation to stop speech that is not protected by the First Amendment such as criminal activity, terrorist plots, threats to public safety, voter interference, even posts that mislead voters about voting requirements and procedures. The government is still allowed to promote programs, notify the public of concerning activity, and expose threats to the public. He just orders the censorship of the American people to end.
While we want to thank the Judge for his wise decision and diligent work, the fight is not over. The federal government will certainly appeal the injunction. Judge Doughty acknowledges that this case is only just beginning and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and perhaps the US Supreme Court will be hearing this case in the future. We can only hope that other judges see the danger that this suppression of free speech poses to our society and uphold Judge Doughty’s wise decision.
Below are a few quotes that the Judge used in his decision to point out the error of the government’s ways:
Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error.
For if men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences, that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.
George Washington, March 15, 1783
I may disapprove of what you say, but I would defend to the death your right to say it.
Evelyn Beatrice Hill, 1906, The Friends of Voltaire
Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the free acts of speech.
Benjamin Franklin, Letters of Silence Dogwood.
Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one place to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.
Harry S. Truman
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