When I read Clair McFarland’s recent brace of articles about Biden wanting to censor freedom of speech on social media platforms it pissed me off.
I get pissed off any time that government wants to strangle our most fundamental American liberty to freely speak our minds.
I had only days before watched an old Mike Wallace interview with Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas on that very topic.
While the interview took place in the late 1950s, right after the Red Scare hysteria and the McCarthy hearings, it drove home the point that we Americans still don’t truly embrace our First Amendment rights.
Biden argues that our Republic is threatened if government cannot censor information on social media sites. What he fails to grasp is that threatening speech is protected speech whether he likes it or not.
During the Wallace interview, Justice Douglas referenced Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address in which the new president discussed freedom of speech as his first topic. Jefferson called political life in our nation a “contest of opinions," necessary to our survival as a free people.
Jefferson went on to defend even speech and opinions that threaten the new nation, saying “ If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”
Jefferson’s elegant solution to seditious speech was not to stifle it, but rather to bury it in patriotic speech, to combat threatening speech with more and better speech. Biden should take notes.
The First Amendment was not written to make us comfortable or to ensure that we feel good about ourselves. It was not written to protect our cherished beliefs from challenge. It was written to preserve the free exchange of ideas in America, even if that exchange makes us nervous as hell, and frightens the children.
The First Amendment was written to prevent government from screwing around with the free intellectual life of its citizens.
During the post-war Hollywood Blacklist hysteria, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) held hearings where they grilled movie industry writers about certain scenes in films that Congress deemed “soft on Communism."
Writers were browbeaten about their educations, their friends, their associations, their private lives and their thoughts.
If the answers weren’t sufficiently patriotic, Congress leaned on studio executives who were more than willing to kiss Congressional asses to “blacklist” writers who didn’t cooperate. All in the name of protecting the public from threatening speech.
Several of the accused invoked their Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, and were sent to prison for contempt of Congress.
Dalton Trumbo, an established, Oscar-winning writer (and my favorite Hollywood celebrity, even above John Wayne) told the HUAC to stick their questions where the sun don’t shine, and invoked his protections to say what he pleased under the First Amendment.
Trumbo – prisoner number 7551 – was sentenced to a year behind bars for contempt of Congress. He said it was a just verdict and true, since he had nothing but contempt for a Congress that would violate the First Amendment to our Constitution.
It takes courage like that of Jefferson and Trumbo to stand up against a government hell-bent on abridging the freedom of expression that we all enjoy as citizens of the United States. It takes an understanding that all forms of speech are protected by our Constitution, even speech that threatens.
Biden should take notes.
Rod Miller can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org