As America celebrated Independence Day yesterday, our first freedoms are increasingly under threat from those who would set them aside to advance their progressive policy goals. As Robert Shibley of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) wrote of the emerging liberal strategy:
Those on the left who argue that it’s time to jettison our nation’s uniquely liberal conception of free speech are making a grievous mistake, but not a new one. . . . The underlying assumption of the new First Amendment critics is that it is self-evident that progressive positions (whatever those may be) are correct. Therefore, if the application of free speech principles makes accomplishing their aims more difficult, it’s freedom of speech that is the problem. . . .
Censors of all stripes worry that without proper guidance and regulation, our society might make the “wrong” choices, as determined by, well, them. But policies adopted under conditions where all sides have a right to be heard carry the legitimacy they do precisely because free discussion and debate increase people’s confidence in the conclusions that are ultimately reached. . . . Whether in science, in a criminal trial, or in society at large, there is no reason to trust a conclusion that was reached without access to and consideration of all of the relevant information—the very information that censors wish to suppress.
Mr. Shibley described how First Amendment protections do not favor one side of the political aisle but benefit all speakers equally. He concluded by noting how free speech is fundamental to our freedom and system of government:
Especially in today’s hyper-polarized politics, labeling an idea or proposition as merely a weapon for, or a conspiracy by, the other side is akin to giving partisans a permission slip to turn off their brains. It’s an easy, expedient measure that gives your “team” one less thing to think about in a world deluged with news and information. It’s much harder to step back and consider that what you see as a “sword” in the hands of your opposition—a metaphor sometimes used by the left-leaning thinkers discussed above—might look a whole lot more like a shield to the other side.
Trying to see the argument from the other side is hard work. But then, governing a heterogeneous nation of more than 300,000,000 is hard work, and in our political system, we all share in that responsibility. When asked on the last day of the Constitutional Convention what kind of government the Framers had produced, Benjamin Franklin famously replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” The First Amendment, and the culture of free speech for which it serves as a touchstone, is a key part of what makes our great experiment work.
Thanks to FIRE and the many other organizations fighting to defend First Amendment rights (unlike liberal organizations like the ACLU, which are increasingly only defending progressive speech), thereby preserving freedom for all Americans, not only those who want to say what is politically correct.
The RNLA will cover current First Amendment issues in politics at itsNational Election Law Seminar on August 3-4 in St. Louis, Missouri. More information and registration details are here.