The War on Free Speech Is Really a War on the Right To Criticize the Government
“Since when have we Americans been expected to bow submissively to authority and speak with awe and reverence to those who represent us? The constitutional theory is that we the people are the sovereigns, the state and federal officials only our agents. We who have the final word can speak softly or angrily. We can seek to challenge and annoy, as we need not stay docile and quiet.”— Justice William O. Douglas
Absolutely, there is a war on free speech.
To be more accurate, however, the war on free speech is really a war on the right to criticize the government.
Although the right to speak out against government wrongdoing is the quintessential freedom, every day in this country, those who dare to speak their truth to the powers-that-be find themselves censored, silenced or fired.
Indeed, those who run the government don’t take kindly to individuals who speak truth to power.
In fact, the government has become increasingly intolerant of speech that challenges its power, reveals its corruption, exposes its lies, and encourages the citizenry to push back against the government’s many injustices.
This is nothing new, nor is it unique to any particular presidential administration.
For instance, as part of its campaign to eradicate so-called “disinformation,” the Biden Administration likened those who share “false or misleading narratives and conspiracy theories, and other forms of mis- dis- and mal-information” to terrorists. This government salvo against consumers and spreaders of “mis- dis- and mal-information” widens the net to potentially include anyone who is exposed to ideas that run counter to the official government narrative.
In his first few years in office, President Trump declared the media to be “the enemy of the people,” suggested that protesting should be illegal, and that NFL players who kneel in protest during the national anthem “shouldn’t be in the country.”
Then again, Trump was not alone in his presidential disregard for the rights of the citizenry, especially as it pertains to the right of the people to criticize those in power.
President Obama signed into law anti-protest legislation that makes it easier for the government to criminalize protest activities (10 years in prison for protesting anywhere in the vicinity of a Secret Service agent). The Obama Administration also waged a war on whistleblowers, which The Washington Post described as “the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration,” and “spied on reporters by monitoring their phone records.”
Part of the Patriot Act signed into law by President George W. Bush made it a crime for an American citizen to engage in peaceful, lawful activity on behalf of any group designated by the government as a terrorist organization. Under this provision, even filing an amicus brief on behalf of an organization the government has labeled as terrorist would constitute breaking the law.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the FBI to censor all news and control communications in and out of the country in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt also signed into law the Smith Act, which made it a crime to advocate by way of speech for the overthrow of the U.S. government by force or violence.
President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Espionage and Sedition Acts, which made it illegal to criticize the government’s war efforts.
President Abraham Lincoln seized telegraph lines, censored mail and newspaper dispatches, and shut down members of the press who criticized his administration.
In 1798, during the presidency of John Adams, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which made it a crime to “write, print, utter or publish … any false, scandalous, and malicious” statements against the government, Congress or president of the United States.
Clearly, the government has been undermining our free speech rights for quite a while now.
Good, bad or ugly, it’s all free speech unless as defined by the government it falls into one of the following categories: obscenity, fighting words, defamation (including libel and slander), child pornography, perjury, blackmail, incitement to imminent lawless action, true threats, and solicitations to commit crimes.
This idea of “dangerous” speech, on the other hand, is peculiarly authoritarian in nature. What it amounts to is speech that the government fears could challenge its chokehold on power.
The kinds of speech the government considers dangerous enough to red flag and subject to censorship, surveillance, investigation, prosecution and outright elimination include: hate speech, bullying speech, intolerant speech, conspiratorial speech, treasonous speech, threatening speech, incendiary speech, inflammatory speech, radical speech, anti-government speech, right-wing speech, left-wing speech, extremist speech, politically incorrect speech, etc.
Conduct your own experiment into the government’s…