Free Speech for Some

COMMENTARY Political Process

Free Speech for Some

Feb 14, 2000 2 min read
Edwin J. Feulner, PhD

Founder and Former President

Heritage Trustee since 1973 | Heritage President from 1977 to 2013

The First Amendment says "Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to peaceably assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Liberals think they can improve on that.

Their First Amendment would read "Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, etc. … providing such speech or activities do not offend. If any offense is taken, citizen whiners, being necessary to the security of a politically correct state, shall from time to time suppress the offender's free speech rights by any means necessary, including, but not limited to, required sensitivity training, 're-education,' and loss of income."

That, at least, is how many liberals have interpreted the First Amendment lately-and it's both hypocritical and scary.

It's hypocritical because liberals often praise what they consider the crowning achievements of free speech in this country, such as freedom for strip clubs to operate in residential neighborhoods. Or freedom for "musicians" to peddle CDs that advocate rape, murder and other acts of enlightened citizenship. Or freedom for artists to use taxpayer money to create works whose sole purpose is to offend taxpayers.

Yet many of these same liberals want to shut up conservatives whose ideas they don't agree with-and do so in ways akin to the techniques the Soviets used during their 70-year reign of terror. That's the scary part. Examples of liberalism's disdain for certain types of free speech include:

A group of 100 left-wing religious leaders who have vowed to hound all presidential candidates until they stop mentioning religion and God on the campaign trail. It just won't do, you see, to have candidates declaring themselves "born again" or praising faith-based organizations for their success at solving social ills. The liberal churchmen say all that God-speak detracts from an "in-depth" debate on the issues. They see nothing wrong, however, in trying to silence the views of politicians and others who take their faith more seriously.

Columnist Dan Savage, who tried to muzzle presidential candidate Gary Bauer because of Bauer's views on gay marriage. In an article in the online magazine Salon, Savage recounts his efforts to infect Bauer with the flu and keep him out of the New Hampshire primary. According to Savage, he was suffering from the flu himself. Instead of getting some bed rest, he decided to infiltrate Bauer's Iowa campaign office and cough on everything in sight. He claims he even licked doorknobs and handed Bauer a pen he had salivated on. Savage admits his gonzo form of biological warfare was "mean-spirited," but justified it by saying Bauer's position on gay marriage was just as mean. Whatever you think of Bauer's position, he certainly has a right to express it. Savage would have none of it, and this from a "journalist" whose very job depends on free speech.

The thugs who disrupted the World Trade Organization conference in Seattle. By threatening violence against those who disagreed with them, the protestors showed that while free trade may bother them, what they really hate is free speech-in this case, the idea that global trade benefits Americans (which, for the record, it does).

Other examples of the Left's intolerance abound. What they do on university campuses-burning newspapers, banishing the works of Plato, Shakespeare and other Dead White Males-fills entire books, for example.

All Americans, liberal or conservative, must be free to speak their minds without fear of harassment, violence-or the flu. Suppressing any idea makes democracy sick.

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. is president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.