A New Perspective: Part 3
It is a curious and disturbing situation when one reads in the news some of the activities about protests and assembled groups. Whether it is the Occupy crowds that filled several cities across the country or the gathering protestors in Chicago during the NATO meetings, these events have me wondering about the very heart of our right to free speech and how it can quickly be turned against us by those with the power.
I believe that the freedom of speech is one of the many rights gained over time that has truly allowed us to take back some of the power that leaders have claimed. Power of the leader rests on the fact that the followers have given this person power. Once it is given, the leader, for ill or good, must keep the followers believing in that leadership. Free speech is a vehicle for the followers to reclaim their place in this process. If something needed to be brought to the attention of the followers, anyone could speak without fear of retaliation. I wonder if perhaps we are losing this taproot to the finely honed axe of those in power.
As I was sitting down to write this, I had a curious thought about my own right of free speech. I had promised to complete this little run about the First Amendment and its different parts. It was my intent to relate some our current political debates to this amendment. However, during my quick research of free speech, I came across some points on the decisions of SCOTUS and their view of matters.
There are few items that I discovered on the history of this Amendment. It was left virtual idle for a centuries before it gained further definition and it was not until the twentieth century that this began in the Court. For example, in the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918 were enacted in order to define acts against the government in the form of insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty in the military or naval forces of the United States; or in the form of disloyal, scurrilous or abusive language against the government. For the Espionage Act, the phrase “clear and present danger” has been the center of the challenges against this law. While it is stated that no case has tested the Sedition Act, so I ponder if we should be concerned.
Over the past century, several different events have tested the free speech rights. These may include a single individual to the political side and associated groups. The rights to let your opinion be heard have become slowly sliced and defined. The idea that one can speak their mind in the manner of burning the Flag comes to mind as a test. Does this act represent a protest against the government and its affiliates? Does this act find protection under the rights of free speech? So far this idea has been protected by these rights, but an amendment has been proposed to give the Flag protection from such acts.
Another area that has become a turning point in this debate is the decision from the Court to give an expansion of political speech rights to corporations and unions, as noted in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010. Essentially, this case supported the continuation of recognizing corporations as people, but it extended the political influence beyond the normal rights for a citizen to donate to a particular campaign. The part that relates to freedom of speech is that this case confirms that a corporation or union has the right to use its money to voice support for a political campaign. It has been this case which led to the formations of these entities known as super PACs. Privacy and anonymity for the donors has give these groups a path to donate limitless funds into a treasury that is separate of the campaign, but used to speak for the candidate.
With all of this and some of the other things that I didn’t mention that includes private actions and freedom of the press, we all need to take a moment to consider a few of these things so we are informed. As informed citizens, we can avoid stepping into situations that the rights are not protected or where it can be tested. For me, this has become a point of great concern as with any blog, the author is putting out an opinion that someone might construe as a private act of libel. In addition, a recent law passed in one state has concluded that online speech against another may be punishable. It is labeled as an anti-bully law, but the language is broad enough that it can include any words written in an online format.
Personally, I am not concerned that I will say anything so inflammatory, but in the event that I do, I want to know that my rights are not being regulated to a vote from a small group that has claimed power. I have a right to say what I need to as one of the followers. Many have sacrificed their lives to protect my rights and I owe them everything to make sure that sacrifice was not in vain.