The courageous First Amendment
“Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty,” Thomas Jefferson
I love the First Amendment with a burning hot passion of a thousand suns. It’s what drew me to journalism. Fear of losing it drew me to public policy. More information is freedom. Less information is tyranny.
Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, and freedom to petition the government aren’t just quaint phrases. They are the five freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the cornerstone of our republic. Side note: The U.S. isn’t a democracy. We are a constitutional republic with democratic institutions. The difference is crucial.
The First Amendment is to the powerful as sunlight is to vampires. Without the First Amendment there is no 14th Amendment, no 19th Amendment. Speaking truth to power and challenging the power structure have been crucial to every single civil rights advancement in our country. Take threats to it seriously. Right now, those threats are real.
Following the Jan. 6 violence that erupted in Washington, D.C., the Democrats are consolidating their power with help and encouragement from their allies in Silicon Valley, the media, Hollywood, high-profile athletes, and academia. They are herding conservative free thinkers who challenge them into an internet ghetto under the guise of public safety.
If you’re a student of history, this sounds familiar. Think Reichstag Fire in 1933. Support for President Trump in any way is darn near an act of sedition. Support of the First Amendment is a crime against public welfare.
CNN wants to ban Fox News. ABC News Political Director Rick Klein suggests a national ideological “cleansing” of Trump supporters. MSNBC’s Joy Reid is pushing “de-Ba’athication.” (I had to look it up.) Democrat lawmakers demand resignations from some Republicans. Google, Apple, and Amazon collude to bring down Parler. Twitter censors the New York Post over stories critical of then-candidate Joe Biden. It permanently bans Trump along with tens of thousands of his supporters with encouragement from former first lady Michelle Obama, who wants the president banned from all platforms.
Verbal bomb thrower and Democrat Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said Congress has “to figure out how to rein in the media environment so that you can’t just spew disinformation and misinformation.”
Closer to home, Gov. Roy Cooper got a little bellicose with his language at a recent news conference. “More people could be alive today but for dangerous falsehoods that have been spread about the critical importance of masks, social distancing. …” Translation: Anyone who disagrees with Cooper — who has ruled under a state of emergency for 10 months and kept residents locked down and in a perpetual state of fear — and dares to share those opposing opinions is guilty of killing people.
If you believe that to be true, it’s not a huge leap to suggest people who perpetuate what Cooper calls “lies” and “misinformation” should be put in jail. Carolina Journal contacted the governor’s office seeking clarification, but as of this writing, we haven’t received a response.
Former ACLU executive director Ira Glasser, who led the organization in 1977 when it defended a group of neo-Nazis’ right to march in Skokie, Illinois, is concerned about the future of the First Amendment.
In a recent interview with Nick Gillespie of Reason Magazine, Glasser recalls telling a group of college students that, based on his experience at the ACLU, if they care about social justice issues, then free speech is their ally. That was news to them. What astonished him is that “these were very educated, bright young people, and they didn’t seem to know this history.”
Based on my experience teaching college students, not knowing history is not a surprise to me.
Freedom is messy, but it takes courage. Glasser warns, “For people who today claim to be passionate about social justice, to establish free speech as an enemy is suicidal.”
The speech we hate the most is the speech that should be most protected. If the First Amendment doesn’t apply to everybody, then it doesn’t apply to anybody. That’s why the ACLU defended neo-Nazis’ right to free speech. That’s courage. That’s freedom. That’s the First Amendment. And that’s why I love it.
Amy Cooke is the chief executive officer of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of the Carolina Journal.
This commentary first appeared in the February print edition of Carolina Journal.