Editorial | Weaponizing Free Speech

S.A. Shepler (c) Community Word, 2018
REUTERS PHOTO: Man standing at a Trump rally in a T-shirt with this printing:




Some assembly required”

A woman and young girl stand nearby laughing.

Since when did this become constitutionally protected free speech in the United States of America? The First Amendment was not conceived to protect hate, bias, threats, violence, misogyny, xenophobia and fake news.

Yet shortly before the shooting in the newsroom at the Annapolis Capital Gazette killing five journalists, hate-monger Milo Yiannopoulos tweated: “can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists.”

Nor was the First Amendment conceived to allow religiously oriented crisis pregnancy centers the right to deliberately withhold information from patients about legal access to abortion. It was not intended to allow corporations to pour millions of dollars into political campaigns to promote candidates who pledged to favor deregulation so corporations could make more money. It was not intended to allow a bakery shop owner to discriminate against a gay couple wanting to buy a wedding cake. It was not intended to allow people to work in the public sector and benefit from collective bargaining but impose the cost of collective bargaining on colleagues.

Free speech used to mean freedom from censorship and government suppression. Now, some claim it means advocating violence, bias, hate and lies.

Justice used to be the mission of free speech advocates. Citizens United turned that upside down. Free speech became a tool to advance corporations and the moneyed class.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued its latest First Amendment ruling in late June based on a California case that religiously oriented crisis pregnancies centers can withhold information from patients who want to learn about their legal right to abortion.

Withholding information from patients may be legal according to the current Supreme Court, but it’s immoral.

I interviewed a young mother in Peoria. She had nine children; the two youngest were twins. Her preeclampsia was so severe after the birth of the twins, she was hospitalized for two weeks. I asked her if she wanted any information or referrals for contraception counseling. She said no. She knows what she wants.

That surprised me. “What do you want?” I asked her. She wanted a tubal ligation, she said.

That should be OK, I said.

No, she said. The physician at her community clinic informed her a tubal ligation was against the Catholic principles of the clinic. She said she didn’t even know the clinic was Catholic.

Yes, the clinic can decline to perform that procedure, I told her, but you must be informed about where you can get the services you want. Did that happen?

Her reply, “No.”

As a result, she was pregnant with what would have been her tenth child and she wanted an abortion.

It makes no sense logically or ethically and is a distortion of free speech to deliberately deceive and mislead people –– whether that is young women seeking contraception and legally-guaranteed right to abortion or bakers claiming artistic free speech rights to discriminate against some customers.

It’s a distortion to cite the First Amendment as protection for promoting scientific untruths like cigarettes are not addictive or for defending corporations right to funnel untold millions into political campaigns without disclosure. Defending the American Nazi Party’s Free Speech right to march in Skokie in 1977 in the face of Holocaust survivors was an affront to the First Amendment, common sense and human decency.

The solution is not for the Supreme Court to swing widely decade-to-decade on its interpretations of First Amendment decisions, first favoring liberal perspectives and then conservative positions. The solution, at least part of it, is to insure independently owned newspapers and journalism, eliminating gerrymandering of voting districts and closing the spigot on unlimited secret corporate money pouring into political campaigns. At least then, citizens would have access to information to make knowledgeable decisions in the voting booth.

Clare Howard

Clare Howard is the editor of the Community Word. She can be reached at communityword@yahoo.com

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