Here is a passage of text for every American citizen to ponder, especially those who think the topic of tyranny is nonsense. It comes from a website owned and operated by the United States Government.
“During the debates on the adoption of the Constitution, its opponents repeatedly charged that the Constitution as drafted would open the way to tyranny by the central government.” This blogger reminds his readers that it was this concern that led to the adoption of the Bill of Rights, a list of guaranteed rights believed to be granted to human persons not by government but by divine decree (a fact that deserves appreciation even by the most fervent of atheists).
As ratified by the States, the first among those enumerated rights includes the assertion that Congress shall make no law “abridging the freedom of speech.” Congress alone is mentioned because in the minds of the Constitutional Fathers it was only Congress that could make laws. The President, you see, was meant to enforce those laws and serve as Commander-in-Chief of the military. Courts were to judge between citizens and decide how laws were implemented. The Supreme Court was to decide the constitutionality of laws.
No society claiming to be inspired by liberty can long survive if freedom of speech is curtailed. To think that this applies only to speech that is non-confrontational, or uncontroversial, or that offends no one is foolish. Such speech needs no protection. It is precisely the argumentative value of speech and the level to which it offends and challenges that causes it to need civil protection.
Only in the clearest, most convincing and most compelling cases should restrictions be placed upon speech. Benefit of the doubt, if we value our freedom, must always go to any controversial speech being debated. Only in the case of obvious danger to life and safety should limitations be imposed.
Some might argue that such restrictions have made it nearly impossible to limit speech. That is exactly my point. Political power, once obtained, seldom limits itself. Powerful people, even those with the best intentions, maintain that power with threat of force. A people without free speech have little or no hope of limiting such power and for this reason alone the opportunity to speak out must be given free reign whenever possible and be restricted in only the most dire of situations. Protected free speech can be oral (live or as part of an audio recording) or it can be in written form (in book, pamphlet, or online).
Let’s face it. Nothing perturbs powerful people more than free speech, and a free citizenry exercising same. In our contemporary world no resource has more potential than the amazing reality of the Internet. Even with its failures, mischaracterizations, intentional falsehoods and mischievousness it remains the most powerful tool yet for unencumbered speech.
At the moment we have two bills in Congress regarding the Internet. In the House there is the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and in the Senate the Protect IP Act (PIPA). Both are overzealous and unnecessarily severe. Bloggers from the Left and the Right are uniting in their opposition.
The argument of lawmakers, of course, seems reasonable. The consequences, however, have the potential of silencing political debate of all types. Without a fair hearing in court, websites could be shut down and free speech curtailed.
Some will undoubtedly say that I’m overreacting. Perhaps. Whether you speak of a death by a thousand small cuts or being nibbled to death by ducks, the outcome is the same. Our liberties in the United States are gradually being abridged, one legislative act and one executive order at a time.
They’re you’re liberties. Claim them. Defend them. Live them. Be willing to fight for them. Or just watch them go away ….