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The Government Attacks the Freedom of Speech

Judge Andrew P. Napolitano on

"I do not agree with a word that you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

-- Voltaire (1694-1778)

Holy Week was not a good week for personal liberty as governments throughout the United States engaged in direct and subtle attacks on free speech.

The freedom of speech is unique in American history and ethos. It was the linchpin of the secession of the 13 colonies from Great Britain. It is often claimed at the most distinguishing characteristic between life in the United States and all other countries. It has suffered and survived grievous government assaults from the Alien and Sedition Acts of the 1790s to the suspension of habeas corpus during the War Between the States to the Red Scares in the last century to the monitoring of social media today.

This great freedom continuously pushes back at the governments that assault it. The freedom of speech is a value and metaphor for the unique, indefeasible, permanent, natural right to think as you wish, to say what you think, to read what you please, to publish what you say, and to do all this without a government permission slip and without fear of government reprisal.

The freedom of speech is both a natural and a constitutional right. It is expressly guaranteed in the First Amendment. That amendment commands not that Congress grant the freedom of speech but that Congress is prohibited from infringing upon it.

 

From and after the ratification of the 14th Amendment, federal and state courts have applied the prohibition on congressional infringement to all governments -- federal, state and local; and to all branches of those governments -- legislative, executive and judicial.

When teaching law students the values of the Bill of Rights, I often began with a curious hypothetical. If the states ratified a constitutional amendment repealing the First Amendment, would the freedom of speech still exist in America? The short answer to that question is: Yes. The longer answer reflects that speech is not just a constitutional right. Because free speech comes from our humanity -- a gift of our Creator -- we have and can exercise this right whether it is reduced to writing and recognized by the government or not.

Moreover, every person employed by any government anywhere in the United States takes an oath of allegiance to the Constitution, which includes all of its amendments. You'd never know that from events during the past week.

Here is the backstory.

...continued

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