Free Speech in the Public Arena

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This is part 4 of my series on Free Speech.  In my third part, I talked about the issue of free speech in academia.  Here I would like to discuss how I see the First Amendment playing out in the public sector.  By public sector, I am referring to the street, store, bank, airplane, bus, park, library or any public building or public office space, where you might find yourself standing or sitting.  The First Amendment provides that:

“Congress make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise.  It protects freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

downloadAs with any of the constitutional amendments there is a certain, indeed I would say “high” degree of ambiguity as to the limits of what the Founding Fathers meant by their words.  We know for instance that they did not mean that you could slander or libel anyone with your words.  We know that they did not mean that you could yell “fire” in a crowded theater.  We also know that there are many instances of what the Founding Fathers did not have a clue would become an interpretation for “Free Speech.”  For instance, the Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court says that the right to make political contributions is a form of free speech.  This will probably go down in history as one of the most egregious interpretations of what the Founding Fathers meant.  The only interpretations that seem more egregious concern several earlier court decisions regarding slavery and the buying and selling of human beings.

Another famous saying is a parody of the “Golden Rule.”  This parody says that “He/She who has the gold makes the rules.”  In terms of free speech, this parody is quite apt.  Corporations have a lot of money, so they decide what free speech is and is not.  The more money or power you have, the more free speech you can ostensibly command.  If you are a US Senator, you will have a greater audience willing to listen to you than you or I would have.

Bernadette Dohrn, the now retired law professor and once upon a time leftist radical, said that “In America, you can say anything you want, until someone starts listening to you.”  This truism seems to have become aggravated by the sheer numbers of lawyers and courts that are willing to hear any type of case regardless of what it is about.  Don’t think for a second that they are doing this to further truth, justice, and the American way of life.  If you have enough money, you can get your day in court.  If you do not, you better have a case that the media finds “sensational.”  Have you ever wondered why some cases get tried much sooner than others?  High profile politicians have the right to a speedy access in appeal courts and even the US Supreme Court considerably faster than you or I ever would.

The Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution says that Americans have the right to “fair and speedy” trial.

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed,”

imagesRecently, I read of the case of an eleven-year-old convicted of killing his stepmother.  His appeal took three and a half years to come to court and then found him not guilty.  On the other hand, Kari Lake, the big lie advocate and loser in the Arizona Governor’s race this past year had appeal after appeal and each one seemed to take less than two or three weeks.  It takes three and a half years to get justice for an eleven-year-old wrongly convicted of murder, but Lake got trial after trial for her baseless and politically motivated claims that they “stole” the election from her.  This same scenario has played out repeatedly in the past few years.  Poor people with no money wait years to get a “fair hearing” while rich bottom feeders like Lake walk in and out of court on an almost daily basis.

This is an excerpt from a talk that Chris Hedges gave on April 4th at the Independent National Convention in Austin, Texas.  He called it “Reclaiming our Country.”

“It is one of the great ironies that the corporate state needs the abilities of the educated, intellectuals and artists to maintain power, yet the moment any begin to think independently they are silenced.  The relentless assault on culture, journalism, education, the arts and critical thinking, has left those who speak in the language of class warfare marginalized, frantic Cassandras who are viewed as slightly unhinged and depressingly apocalyptic.  Those with the courage to shine a light into the inner workings of the machinery, such as Noam Chomsky, are turned into pariahs, or, like Julian Assange, relentlessly persecuted.”

It does not really take much to run afoul of those who want to stifle free speech and free expressions in America.  Here are some examples from my own life.  I give these modestly because they are nowhere near as egregious as some.

  • Told while working for the Metropolitan Council in Minnesota that I had better back the Democratic candidate for Governor or my career would be short-lived. I backed Jesse Ventura instead.
  • Told by the VA Director while working for the VA as a Claims Examiner 7 that I would need to shave my beard off, or that I would never get a promotion.
  • Apparently, a complaint (from someone unknown) about my teaching a unit on current social issues necessitated a security person from the school to burst into my classroom, demanding to see my lesson plans, and wanting to know “who approved these plans?” I informed him that they were part of the regular curriculum, to which he ordered me to not pursue these lesson plans any further.  This happened in a local high school about 4 years ago when I was filling in for the regular teacher who was out for the week.

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In recent years, we have seen more and more examples of speech being stifled by both right and left-wing extremists.  Each side does not want the other side to have a right to speak their piece.  A key cornerstone of our democracy has become so politicized today that agitators feel they have the right to speak but you and I do not.  Lawyers twist the words and definitions to fit the needs of corporations and rich clients but not to find truth and justice.  As Humpty Dumpty said to Alice:

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“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

Gold makes the rules, and the Master defines the words.  He who has both the gold and the power decides what is the truth and what lies may be told.

“I can walk into a bookshop and point out a number of books that I find very unattractive in what they say.  But it doesn’t occur to me to burn the bookshop down. If you don’t like a book, read another book.  If you start reading a book and you decide you don’t like it, nobody is telling you to finish it.”   — Salman Rushdie

Libraries, once a bastion of intellectual thought and free speech, have come under attack all over the USA.  State legislatures governed by Republican majorities have drawn up lists of hundreds of books to be removed from public libraries, school libraries and college libraries.  In one state a high school principal was recently fired for allowing a teacher to use a textbook for art appreciation which depicted the famous statue of David.  Book bans have occurred in 138 school districts in 32 states. These districts represent 5,049 schools with a combined enrollment of nearly 4 million students.  — Banned in the USA: Rising School Book Bans Threaten Free Expression and Students’ First Amendment Rights (April 2022),

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Truth is now routinely perverted by both the media and the so-called justice system in America.  The narratives that you are bombarded with every day and that deign to pass as Free Speech are seldom anything but gross distortions of reality.  Think of the documents you sign for an insurance policy or a mortgage or buying a new car.  Dozens of pages of legal sounding words that have no meaning to the average person.  Even a lawyer would be hard put to explain what you are about to sign.  There is a good chance that you will later find that they covered every loophole needed to protect themselves at your expense.  I give you one example from many in my life.

A few years ago, I purchased a new RV.  The dealer talked me into signing an extended warranty policy for about 2000 dollars.  In less than ten thousand miles, a wheel broke off.  It did not come off because of loose nuts.  The hub and brake assembly all broke off with part of the axel.  It tore through the underbody of the RV causing almost 7000 thousand dollars of damage.  When I called the warranty company, they told me I had no claim.  Their policy covered “defect” not “damage” and that I should read page 32 for an explanation.  Every auto person I talked to said it was a defective hub and wheel.  “NO” said the warranty company.  If I did not agree, I could hire a lawyer, but they added they had fought this battle many times and they “would win.”

I am sure that everyone reading this can find a similar example of signing some long legal sounding document and later finding that the words were crafted to “give you the shaft.”  These legal distortions further the ends of an elite that does not believe in Democracy.  They are like wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Their façade keeps the public passive until they are ready to pounce.  There are many in America today for which Democracy is nothing but a convenient façade.  It is brought out when needed to further their ends.  Ends which as my good friend Dick always said you will find when you “follow the money.”

“Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked.  So was Stalin.  If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise.  Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech.”  — Noam Chomsky

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Free speech is like anything else that someone tells you is free.  It is never free.  There are no free lunches.  If you understand that “Freedom” is never free but is always purchased with the blood of heroes and martyrs, what makes you think that Free Speech is “FREE.”  Free Speech is purchased with the courage to pursue convictions, speaking up when in the minority, and most of all an acceptance of hearing things you don’t want to hear and understanding that truth is like a kaleidoscope.  Each twist of a kaleidoscope brings a different reality into view.

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Consider participating in “Free Speech Week” this October 16-22, 2023

FREE SPEECH WEEK

Created in 2005 and originally called National Freedom of Speech Week, Free Speech Week (FSW) takes place the third week of October annually.  Its purpose is to raise public awareness of the importance of freedom of speech and of a free press in our democracy – and to celebrate that freedom.  This non-partisan, non-ideological event is intended to be a unifying celebration.

PS:  Check out the latest Jim Hightower Thoughts on Book Banning.

https://open.substack.com/pub/jimhightower/p/how-perverse-is-the-gops-book-banning?r=zfnvi&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=email

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jane Fritz
    Apr 07, 2023 @ 12:02:13

    Apparently the Tennessee legislature doesn’t approve of free speech either; it’s somehow able to punish the legal action of democratically elected legislators exercising their presumed right to free speech by removing them from the legislature. This in a so-called democratic country? WTF?

    Like

    Reply

    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Apr 07, 2023 @ 15:24:25

      Yes, I just heard this yesterday. I should have mentioned it but there is so much of this crap going around in the good old USA today, that it is hard to keep track of. Free Speech is an empty buzzword now. IMHO. Hope all is well with you in Canada Jane.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

  2. Wayne Woodman
    Apr 24, 2023 @ 14:21:00

    We certainly live in uncertain times which can be quite scary at some points.

    Like

    Reply

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