Conservatives are false friends of free speech

True friends of free speech support the first amendment even when they’re deeply offended.

Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix, Arizona. Arizona. © Dave DuBay

I’ve been an ardent supporter of free speech since high school when I first became interested in politics.

In the 1980s free speech was considered a liberal issue. Conservatives—especially the Christian Right—frequently tried to ban books. Even Judy Blume novels.

The left wing free speech movement, however, which was born at the University of California Berkeley in the 1960s, died at Berkeley in 2017.

Free speech becomes a conservative issue

Today it’s not uncommon for people to think I’m a conservative because I support free speech. I’m neither conservative nor liberal/progressive.

With progressives disinviting not only conservative speakers but even centrist or left of center freethinkers—and others shouting down anyone they disagree with rather than engaging in thoughtful dialogue—conservatives have been vocal about the importance of free speech.

Meanwhile, progressives have increasingly argued against free speech. It’s popular to claim that hate speech is not free speech. But that only shows progressives’ ignorance of the first amendment.

Free speech is a guarantee that you will be offended. So expect it. Deal with it. You’re an adult.

And remember, defending free speech doesn’t mean you agree with what’s being said. You can’t agree with everyone, but you can defend everyone’s right to free speech.

Yelling fire in a crowded theatre

People also like to repeat the cliche that you can’t yell fire in a crowded theatre. This comes from Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ 1919 opinion in Schenk v. United States.

But Justice Holmes was wrong. Schenk was a challenge to the Sedition Act of 1918 which made protesting US involvement in World War I illegal. Many socialists, including Eugene Debs, were thrown in prison for anti-war protests.

The first amendment does indeed protect public opposition to war and criticism of the government in general.

Besides, being anti-war is in no way comparable to yelling fire in a crowded theatre. And if you did yell fire then your crime isn’t what you yelled but rather the bodily harm you caused to people who subsequently panicked.

You hurt my feelings

Progressives today, however, defend the “yelling fire” argument by claiming that free speech hurts their feelings, and therefore speech (and even open dialogue) is violence even when no bodily harm occurs.

These are the same people who wonder why they can’t win elections.

More to the point, you’re contradicting yourself if you support the “yelling fire” argument while also supporting Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem. Kaepernick has hurt many people’s feelings, and that’s the same as violence according to progressives and their predecessor, Justice Holmes.

But progressives only oppose speech they disagree with. They quickly abandon their alleged principles when someone says something they agree with.

And so conservatives hold themselves up as paragons of American liberty.

Not so fast

As it turns out, conservatives also support free speech only when they agree with what’s being said and abandon their principles when someone says something they disagree with.

It’s as wrong to say Ann Coulter should be deplatformed as it is to say NFL players who kneel during the national anthem should be fired.

Are you offended when football players kneel? Get over it. Free speech means you will be offended from time to time.

But it gets worse. Republicans control all three branches of government. The first amendment doesn’t apply to private universities or companies like Google even if ethically they have a responsibility to uphold American values like free speech.

After all, free speech is the cornerstone of human rights. Without it all other human rights are at risk.

Government officials and agencies, however, are legally bound by the first amendment. Yet President Trump called for the FCC to revoke NBC’s license because he doesn’t like what the media says. To its credit the FCC rebuked the president. Revoking NBC’s license would be unconstitutional and unAmerican.

That the most powerful conservative in the world—Donald Trump—is so disdainful of free speech, American liberty, and the United States Constitution—and that so few conservative proponents of free speech chose to denounce Trump—shows that conservatives are false friends of free speech.

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Author: Dave DuBay

Dave is a social worker from Phoenix, Arizona. He blogs at thepaintedporch.net. He's also at twitter.com/Dave_DuBay.

8 thoughts on “Conservatives are false friends of free speech”

  1. I’ve always been of the opinion that we draw the line at free speech when it incites people to break the law (kill members of a certain group for example). The left (of which I am a proud member which surprises some of my members when I post anti-feminist content) is divided now between true progressives and what we who believe in free speech refer to as The Regressive Left.

    I wrote about it in the aftermath of Clinton’s failure. Please indulge me if you haven’t already read it. I would very much like your opinion on it. https://inthemindofmen.wordpress.com/2016/11/11/triggerwarning-why-we-the-political-left-failed-so-badly-this-year/

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  2. While we sort of agree in general, we’ve a points of serious disagreement as well, mostly centering on the nature of “speech” in question and where and how it’s being done, as well as the response from the offended. That’s going to happen and is of little note.

    However, that being said, I pointed disagree with your opinion that public universities aren’t bound by the Constitution. They are, in reality if not specific name or legal organization, government entities as they receive their charters and a large portion of their funding from the several States. Face it, there can be no allowed constitutional claim about separation of church and state in regards to public universities without there also being similar claims about free speech. It’s the same Amendment!

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  3. Conservatives understand that being fired is a consequence of saying unpopular things. A private company can, and most private companies do, police the public statements (gestures) of their employees.
    Rioting because a conservative is going to speak at the union, or trashing a Starbucks because of the global patriarchy…we conservatives figure the police should intervene to arrest the violent activists.

    Think of it this way: If Anne Coulter wins, we have greater responsibility over our actions. If Antifa wins, it is only a matter of time before Dave DuBay steps out of line and is silenced. But not by a conservative.

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    1. I’ll echo (somewhat) what Dave said, in regard to the NFL players. They are free to protest whatever they like – on their own dime/time. When they are on the field, they are employees doing their jobs, and their private employers have a right to restrict their speech. My employer does the same thing – it is established fact/law that your employer can legally do this when you are acting on the company’s behalf.

      As for FCC licenses, if a TV station, in their news segments, is knowingly broadcast false information (“fake news”) they should have their license pulled. If they are broadcasting biased information without labeling it as opinion, aren’t they doing a dis-service to the public and also invalidating their broadcast license (serving in the public interest is in fact one of the reasons for granting an FCC over-the-air license)? If they are making an honest attempt at telling the truth, then they are good to go. The problem we have is that it is nearly impossible in today’s hyper-partisan environment to show exactly which of these options it really is.

      Liked by 1 person

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