Can You Have Your First Amendment and Eat it Too?

U.S. Senator Ed Markey from Massachusetts says yes.

From the 4/24/14 Boston Herald:

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey wants to empower an obscure federal agency to begin scouring the Internet, TV and radio for speech it finds threatening — a plan met with jeers from defenders of the First Amendment … Using its own judgment to determine what qualifies as impermissible speech, the new government hall monitors would then recommend steps for Congress to take that are “appropriate and necessary to address such use of telecommunications.” Now, those recs must be “consistent with the First Amendment,” the bill says — and Markey insists.

Here’s the problem. Partisan Democrats and those who lean that way will look at the current federal government and conclude, “All they’re going to do is stop hate speech. Anti-black, anti-gay defamation. Instead of going through the motions of lawsuits, we’ll just have the federal Department of Justice take care of it.”

The unstated premise here is that so long as the government is elected by a majority, then whatever the government does is pretty much OK– as long as it does not violate the First Amendment, of course. This is the veneer of reason and justice — disguising a legal obscenity — often brought to non-debates of this sort.

How on earth can you orchestrate such a thing without violating the First Amendment? The very act of doing so, the moment it’s implemented, is a violation of the First Amendment, or any concept of freedom of speech on one’s own property.

If you finance or otherwise (through voluntary means) obtain funds to finance your own website on the Internet, then this is private property. The government has no more right to invade your space on the Internet and say, “Hey I don’t like what you’re saying. Stop that,” than the government would have a right to storm into your house and tell you want you may think, write to your friends or read.

This is what happens when we place “the public interest” above individual rights. It’s also what happens when we claim that so long as a majority voted into office a particular administration and U.S. Department of Justice, that government can pretty much do what it wants, within limits that are never defined.

U.S. Senator Markey and those attempting to advance this bill know what they’re doing. They know full well that it’s a violation of free speech for the government to determine what “hate” is and then by means of executive fiat begin to regulate it.

Staunch Democrats like Senator Markey would never tolerate such regulation of “hate speech” if the government, let’s say, began to define support for ObamaCare as hate speech, or support for gay marriage or abortion rights as “hate speech.” By the way, all it would take is one socially conservative administration to be elected, and those things most likely would become hate speech, at least for a period of 4-8 years. What then, Senator Markey?

Some will claim that this law only aims to protect would-be victims of violence from crimes before they happen. But what’s the rational distinction here? Is it a proper function of government to intervene if someone starts running around with a gun, or threatening (in a credible way) to kill people? Of course. But is it a proper function of government to intervene if IT judges that what you’re writing or saying could incite someone else to violence, and therefore must be censored? That’s the starting point of a dictatorship; in fact, it’s the central principle of any dictatorship. Dictators who enforce censorship never state, “Do what I say.” They state, “Do what’s in the public interest.” The “public,” of course, means their ruling collective.

Nothing could be further from the concept or practice of the First Amendment as we know it.

I abhor racism or any irrational form of group-think. I can’t think of anything more disgusting than a website, book or writing material designed to glorify racist hatred or anything of the kind. I oppose all forms of collective group-think, whether it’s to advance hatred of black people in favor of whites, or to advance hatred of white people in favor of blacks. The color or demographic specifics don’t matter; the principle is always wrong. But do I believe such people have every right to spout whatever they wish, for whatever irrational purpose it may serve in their minds? Absolutely. Because freedom to express one’s own thoughts — on one’s own dollar or private property — is a right.

And don’t make the tired point about shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. A person doing that is violating the right of a private theater owner to make a living, as well as the rights of the theater customers to get the show they paid for, and the right of the performers/movie producers to make their living, as well. It’s not a suppression of free speech to uphold the individual and property rights of others in such contexts.

“Saying racist, hateful things is like shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.” This claim implies that people who don’t like racism — myself included — have a political right never to be offended or disgusted. Really? The moment the government starts deciding, even in the smallest or incremental of ways, what constitutes — for everyone — a personal or emotional offense is the moment that freedom is done.

Nor can you rationalize, as Senator Markey has, that “We’re not going to abolish the First Amendment. We’re just going to protect people from the effects of hate.” But freedom of speech refers to freedom of thought. Since emotions are forms of thoughts, then hate (like any other emotion) is protected by the First Amendment. To state this fact is not to endorse hatred; it’s simply to uphold an individual right.

By the way, why is hatred always irrational or wrong? Isn’t it possible for a lover of individual rights to hate fascism or totalitarianism? Isn’t it possible for a lover of equality to hate the KKK, Nazis or other racist gangs? If you love your spouse or child, isn’t it rational and logical to hate someone who seeks to harm that loved one? Love of one thing implies hatred of its opposite. Anyone who tells you they hate nothing is either lying, or a robot. Since when does hatred as such become against the law?

I’ve been saying that reducing or ending liberty in economics, health care and financial matters will eventually lead to calls to reduce and ultimately end freedom of speech. Do you believe me now?



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