Matteo: Freedom of screech

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

One of the greatest gifts of enlightenment philosophers was the idea that people have certain rights that cannot be taken away by the government.  These rights include freedom to assemble, freedom of the press and of course freedom of speech. We know that the First Amendment to the Constitution only applies to government restrictions on speech and does not apply to the private sector. However, implicit in what it means to Americans is that people should have the right to voice opinions. Of course, there are consequences for speaking freely, especially when the words a person uses are viewed as offensive to larger groups who find those words objectionable. Those consequences can result in criticism, dissent or debate, but all of these options are far better than censorship, which has become a tool of the left to prevent people with conservative views to voice their opinions.

America has always been a place where people have dissented and there have been attempts by individuals to limit free speech. In the 18th century the Alien and Sedition Acts were put in to place to limit criticism of the government. Matthew Lyon, a member of Congress, was convicted of sedition for criticizing President John Adams, and he was sentenced to 4 months and had to pay a fine of $1,000. He actually campaigned from jail and won a landslide (see what happens when you attempt to jail political opponents). Lyon owns the distinction of being the only member of Congress to have been elected while serving time in jail.

Throughout history, there have been other episodes where free speech was under attack. Approximately a century ago, another thin skinned president, Woodrow Wilson, signed off on the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. The latter was a law created to silence people who made “unpatriotic” speeches. Both laws resulted in people being put in jail, and the excuse of the proponents of these laws was to “protect” the country.  The Sedition Act of 1918 actually had a penalty of a $10,000 fine and up to 20 years in prison for speaking out against the government and made it a crime to, “… publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States…” In other words, it was against the law to criticize the government.

In the past, as well as in the present, those who seek to curb others’ right to free speech do so out of fear. Fear that they don’t have the mental capacity to successfully debate absurd ideas or manufacture fear to gain support for their rhetoric. Today, the attack on free speech comes from left-wing individuals who have taken over college campuses where they have imposed speech codes and attempt to limit conservative speakers from delivering opposing views in the very place that should encourage the freest expression of divergent ideas.

This began with an attack on individual words in the form of political correctness, which had the purpose of changing words to make them less offensive to thin skinned people. The idea of creating a “kinder,” “gentler” word through the manipulation of vocabulary was originally the source of humor for late night comedians. Calling someone who was bald, “hearing impaired or follicly challenged” was so ridiculous that, at the time, people just laughed or shook their heads at its absurdity. Unfortunately, this is no longer funny as PC evolved into speech codes at universities, which vilified words like mother, American and any word with the word “man” in it to pacify the perpetually marginalized. Wokeness became PC on steroids and the marriage of gender ideology, victimization culture and vocabulary created a new intolerance for words that were never thought of as offensive in the past, but suddenly required the rewriting of dictionaries to soothe the fragile psyches of wokesters who were like little children placing their hands over their ears when someone said something they didn’t like or agree. The escalation of this verbal tyranny led to demands that people use preferred pronouns and the belief that a person could take ownership of parts of speech.

Liberals are quick to define anything they disagree with as “hate speech,” which is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group based on something such as race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.” The problem with this definition is that it’s completely subjective, and many on the left (who are offended by everything) are quick to label anything they disagree with as hateful. Aren’t most insults or calling someone a word that begins with a profanity, hateful? Isn’t any heated discussion that involves name calling (which is a tool of leftists when they are losing an argument) an expression of hatred? How can a society where one of the basic tenets of freedom resorts to censoring speech deemed “hateful” and claim it is still a free society?


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