Today we’re recommending a great piece by Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept on free speech. Greenwald writes about the latest efforts to formally limit the free speech protections enshrined in the First Amendment. And naturally, the push to restrict free speech is bipartisan and it’s being done in the name of fighting terrorism.
In the article, Greenwald reminds us that the prospect of curtailing free speech was written off as a crazy idea by nearly everyone as recently as 2006. And then he proceeds to explain why we should defend the existing protections on political speech that were set forth by Supreme Court in 1969. As currently understood, free speech that advocates (or justifies) the use of force is protected in the US unless it is advocating imminent force. So I’m allowed to say in casual conversation or on this blog that we should beat up the notorious That Guy. But if I was at the head of an Angry Mob in front of That Guy’s house, and I made the same call for violence, that would be illegal since it would be an immediate threat to That Guy’s personal security. This is how it works, and this is how it should be.
At first blush, it may seem that we shouldn’t tolerate anyone advocating the use of force. But if we applied that concept uniformly, upwards of 90% of the presidential debates thus far would probably need to be banned as well. As Americans, we hear politicians talk about using force against other people and countries all the time. Is it conceivable that this would be outlawed? No, of course not. Instead, it would be applied selectively. Greenwald highlights the absurdity of this notion beautifully (emphasis in original):
There are millions of people in the world who believe and argue that the U.S. has been supporting tyranny and bringing violence to predominantly Muslim countries for decades as a means of dominating that region, and that return violence is not only justifiable but necessary to stop it (just as there are millions of westerners who believe and argue that they must bring more violence to the countries of that region). In particular, it’s astonishing to watch Americans – whose favorite political debate is deciding which country should be bombed next or which individuals should be next assassinated – propose changes to the First Amendment to make it a crime for others to justify (not engage in, but merely justify) the use of violence in what they argue is valid self-defense.
You can check out the full article here: