Democratic forms of government are inherently fragile because they seek to give voice to the masses amid intense competition for influence and power by monied interests. The challenge is to ensure everyone has the same standing in the public square and under the law, so our Constitutional Republic guarantees the rights of every individual citizen. The danger is that the individual can easily be crushed by collective or corporate interests, so our Constitution enshrines the right to free speech in the First Amendment.
The First Amendment is straightforward but also comprehensive. Our founders rightly realized that religious expression is the most important and precious, so the government is strictly restrained: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Congress is further admonished to “make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” The people and the press have the right to dissent or at least question those in power. To drive this point home, the First Amendment expressly states Congress cannot inhibit “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Recently released internal Twitter files revealed that House Democrat staffers wanted Twitter to even further censor the Hunter Biden laptop story in 2020 arguing “The First Amendment is not absolute.” That is an incredibly dangerous declaration and clearly the province of tyranny. Anytime anyone, any entity, or any government claims they know better than the average citizen and must protect them from whatever information, that arrogance must be recognized as an assault on free speech and a blatant power grab for influence.
Often uncomfortable, free speech is intended to protect unpopular speech; and sometimes expressions of free speech are offensive and even wrong, but under no circumstance should any entity or government decide for the citizenry what they can or cannot hear. In a free society, it is incumbent on the individual to decide for themselves the merit or worth of any speech, so the individual may accept or reject any speech. In other words, anyone has the right to say whatever, but everyone else has the right not to listen.
Pornography has been repeatedly upheld under freedom of expression, but it is also recognized as harmful to our youth and society at large. Therefore, pornography is somewhat restricted with the intent that only adults that choose to see it can access it, so how can any other expressions be squelched? Certain information, misinformation, or disinformation can be harmful, but the power to decide ultimately resides with a free people. If the government, media, or Big Tech intrude to deprive the people of hearing certain information, they rob the people of their duty and right to decide for themselves.
Preserving freedom of speech has been a perennial struggle. Sometimes the debate is about information or opinions that are harmful to society, but more often it’s about the powerful defending their power or more precisely hiding their corruption. That debate rages again as those in power argue to censor information and opinions they consider threatening.
It’s not new or surprising that large companies, governments, or politicians strive to suppress unfavorable press or manipulate public opinion, but what has become shocking is the brazen overt shameless pursuit not just to influence but to deceive and mislead the people. And even more disturbing is that the government coerces or colludes with the media to manufacture their version of truth.
From 2016 through 2018, Democrats aided by the DOJ and FBI relentlessly pushed the utter hoax that President Trump had colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 Presidential Election. The mainstream media never questioned the dubious claims but rather endorsed them as patently true; and when the fabrication finally fell a part, they just walked away. Then in 2020 when verifiable evidence was discovered that Hunter Biden had more than a few illicit activities and that Joe Biden could possibly be implicated, the FBI called Twitter and Facebook to bury it and they did. And even more stunning was that anyone that did question that story was ridiculed if not cancelled.
There are plenty of other examples, like silencing any alternative opinions about COVID, but the point here is not to defend Trump and indict Biden. The point is We The People should demand that free speech be protected and respected, and insist the press do its job! We don’t need a monolithic media pushing a single party line regardless of what party. Healthy democratic societies must have a robust press cheering and jeering all sides. We need the rough and tumble debate without censorship to flush out the truth.
The unfolding saga at Twitter is instructive. When Twitter was covertly censoring, expelling, and shadow-banning conservatives, Democrats and media beamed with approval and excused these anti-free speech antics as necessary to protect the public from dangerous dissent. Now that Elon Musk just says Twitter will simply allow free speech; the left is apoplectic. Opening the Twitter files, we now know that Twitter was indeed persecuting conservatives, but Musk says no more and for that he is being excoriated.
Democrats and leftists are aghast at unbridled free speech claiming that without censorship, speech will be bigoted, dangerous, misogynist, and racist. What they really mean is that’s what they think about average Americans. They loathe our traditional values, so they must viciously malign them.
Some will say that Twitter is a private company and customers can choose to leave but remember when others attempted to create alternative social media, Big Tech smothered them in the crib. So, if there are monopolies of the public square, they may need to live up to a higher standard. However, the real warning here is that government agencies and officials have been using private companies to censor by proxy; that’s essentially fascism and it should alarm every American!
We don’t all have to ever agree or even listen to one another, but we must let everyone speak! Free speech is the cornerstone of our republic; without it, liberty will be lost.
“Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16).
Pete Riehm is a conservative activist and columnist in south Alabama. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or read all his columns at http://www.renewamerica.com/.© Pete Riehm
The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.