Righties do love their First Amendment rights, but they don’t understand them very well. For example, on the Right it is commonly believed the right to freedom of speech includes a right to not be disagreed with. (This is something I’ve written about before, so for examples, see “This Is Rich,” and “America Has Lost Its Mind.”)
But no, dear ones, it does not. The free speech part of the First Amendment protects you from government interference of your speech. For example, if you own a newspaper, and a government agent drops by every day to decide what stories and editorials you can or cannot print, that would be infringing on your rights. However, if the mayor of your town publicly complains about your news coverage, but doesn’t try to stop you from covering news as you see fit, that is not an infringement on your rights.
By the same token, government cannot tell you what to say. If a government agent came to you with propaganda and demanded you print it in your newspaper, you would be within your rights to say no, I won’t. But this is another point often lost on righties. For example, for years conservatives in several states have been passing laws that determine what a physician must say to a woman seeking an abortion, even if the physician thinks the speech is garbage and doesn’t want to say it. This, my lovelies, is an obvious infringement on the physicians’ right to free speech, but so far several red states have gotten away with it.
U.S. case law has long recognized that “speech” is sometimes non-verbal, so that opinions expressed in gestures or art, for example, enjoy the same protection as editorials and speeches. For this reason, courts have long recognized that burning a U.S. flag in protest of some federal government policy, as offensive as that might be, is protected speech. Even so, conservatives have wanted to make flag burning illegal or unconstitutional for years. By the same token, you can count on conservatives to be first in line to stop the display of art they don’t like. Conservatives have issues with academic freedom, also, and want to control what is said in classrooms. (Note to rightie readers: forcing children to recite prayers in a public school classroom is an infringement of their right to their own free exercise of religion, never mind an infringement of the establishment clause.)
Freedom of speech is not absolute. You cannot drive around in your neighborhood at 2 a.m. blasting your political opinions through a megaphone, for example. There are limitations on the display of pornography. Graffiti and naughty words may get you fined. But on the whole, speech is pretty much a free-for-all here in the U.S., as it should be. Expect to take what you dish out.
I bring this up because of a couple of recent episodes involving free speech rights.
Paul Guaschino was driving with an “impeach Obama” bumper sticker on his car, when another driver flipped him the bird. We assume that the other driver was objecting to the bumper sticker, which is not necessarily true, but that’s how Guaschino took it. Guaschino followed the other driver to a traffic light, and while both vehicles were stopped, Guaschino got out of his car and began to pound the other vehicle with a baseball bat. The other motorist, recognizing unhinged craziness when he saw it, fled. Police apprehended Guaschino and filed criminal charges against him.
As Digby said,
But you have to love the irony of somebody exercising his freedom of speech, as he has every right to do, but gets enraged and violent when someone exercises theirs in response. I suppose it’s just intense frustration that, after all they’ve been told, the majority of the country doesn’t agree with them and actually thinks they’re jerks.
But of course, the usual righties are cheering for Guaschino, whereas if a leftie so much as looks at a conservative cross-eyed, all lefties are goons and thugs.
But this brings me back to my original point, which is that conservatives believe freedom of speech includes protection from being disagreed with (sorry about the dangling participle). I ran into this post the other day (featuring a shout out to our own c u n d gulag!) written by a rightie blogger who believes criticism of Faux Snooze amounts to an infringement of Faux’s right to free speech, i.e., pretending to be a news organization while really being a mouthpiece for whatever agenda Rupert Murdoch is pushing this week. And the blogger thinks it is just OUTRAGEOUS that people — including President Obama — trample on Faux’s First Amendment rights by saying such things as I just said, because it’s the truth. But as gulag pointed out in the comments,
that he continues to allow FUX Noise the use of the PUBLIC AIRWAVES, to spread their stupid, ignorant, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and/or homophobic, propaganda!
Just like Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Castro, Pol Pot, and Saddam Hussein, did in their Totalitarian states!
Snark. It’s a beautiful thing. And protected by the First Amendment!