Free Speech Extends to All

Posted: August 14, 2017 by carltate81 in Uncategorized

There’s a legendary  story, emphasis on legendary, circulated among Supreme Court litigators about a first amendment case argued in front of the Court many years ago. The case concerned a state law that limited free speech. And it subsequently aroused the ire of the late Justices Hugo Black and Felix Frankfurter, the former taking an absolutist position on the amendment, the latter taking a more practical and nuanced position.

According to legend Black pulled out an old copy of the Constitution and read the First Amendment to a lawyer representing the state in the case. “It says Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech,” Black lamented to the attorney. He would repeat that over and over again to the now stunned attorney, each time raising his voice a little louder, pounding the desk in front of him for emphasis. He added, “What don’t you understand about the word ‘no’?”

Justice Frankfurter, tiring of his colleagues theatrics, finally interceded with “”You’re reading the words wrong! It doesn’t say ‘Congress shall make no law.’ It says “Congress shall make no law. This law wasn’t passed by Congress, it was passed by a state legislature.”

Oh to be a fly on the wall to witness the clash between two of the greatest legal minds to have ever sat on the Supreme Court. I bring this story up because this weekend (and I fear many weekends henceforth) will likely test the limits of what freedom of speech means in our country, in our state and in our community. When it comes to the amendment and right in question I side with the late Justice Frankfurter, the state (government) has the authority to set practical limits on speech, that’s the case with every freedom and privilege enjoyed by all.

That being said – free speech, the right to speak out against your government, to speak out against your grievances, the right to complain, the right to challenge those in power, to dissent, to say hell no or hell yes, has always been, and will always be, central to the American form of government and those of the states.

Those words are easy to write and defend in the abstract right? Who isn’t for them while reading them on a Sunday morning? But are you for them while watching news reports about a Klan rally in support of a Confederate monument? Are you in support of them while reading an article about a Women’s Rally in Washington, DC? Would you still feel as passionate about them the same week a Black Lives Matter Rally comes to your town to protest?

If not then are you truly for freedom of speech?


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