For years, Democrats have been making the case that free speech is good, but that some restrictions on free speech are needed because, after all, some speech is just too dangerous, too hateful, too hazardous for the health and safety of citizens, and it’s therefore incumbent on government to step in and put a stop to improper rhetoric.
But this is risky constitutional business.
Founding Fathers created a First Amendment for a reason — and it was mostly to solidify the right of individuals to express political dissent absent fear of government punishment.
It was Thomas Jefferson, in fact, who fought one of the earliest and most eyebrow-raising battles against government clamps on freedom of speech. In 1798, he opposed President John Adams’s “Alien and Sedition Acts,” a set of laws that actually prohibited citizens and members of the press from criticizing political leaders.
It was government censorship of citizen speech, pure and simple.
“The Sedition Act,” Pacific Legal Foundation wrote, “specifically outlawed conspiracies ‘to oppose any measure or measures of the government’ and also outlawed publishing ‘any false, scandalous and malicious writing against Congress or the president.’”
Fast-forward to today and the left is pressing a modern-day equivalent of these sedition censorship laws. The target is President Donald Trump. The target is the conservative base. The target is even the Christian community.
“History will rightly remember [Wednesday’s] violence at the Capitol, incited by a sitting president who has continued to baselessly lie about the outcome of a lawful election, as a moment of great dishonor and shame for our nation,” said Barack Obama, in a widely reported statement about the rallies on Capitol Hill to protest the election results.
Leftists in the media weighed in similarly.
“Trump incites mob in violent end to presidency,” CNN Politics crowed in a recent headline. Another, also from CNN: “Trump’s presidency ends with American carnage.”
That was after Twitter, led by leftist Jack Dorsey, deleted several of Trump’s tweets about the contested election results.
That was after Twitter and other social media platforms spent the last few months booting more and more posts and reposts and tweets and retweets on issues deemed offensive to Democrats — including valid, researched, sourced news stories that showed the left in negative lights.
That was after Sen. Chuck Schumer, in a tweet from August, accused that “President Trump is inciting violence while screaming LAW & ORDER. Enough.”
That was after a U.S. District Court judge in 2017 ruled that a lawsuit against Trump could go forward because, as CNN wrote in a headline, “It’s plausible Trump incited violence.”
That’s just a drop in the big bucket of Democrat demands to silence Trump, to quiet conservatives, to censor conservative expression by mischaracterizing political pushback as violence.
There’s an interesting other side of the story, though.
All that was also after — and this is where it gets really interesting — leftist Kathy Griffin held up a bloodied mock of Trump’s head for the world to see; leftist Nancy Pelosi called for summers of resistance; leftist Maxine Waters called for “unrest in the streets.”
All that was also after — again, most interesting — Black Lives Matter, antifa and anti-police, anti-law and order types took over city streets in America, set up blockades, and patrolled with guns while demanding crazy political, financial and societal concessions. While tearing up properties. While tearing apart private businesses. While keeping law abiding citizens from safely accessing their homes and places of work.
Where were the cries of Obama, of CNN, of Democrat leaders and politicos then?
The message is this: Conservatives who fight for their political rights fuel violence. Leftists who fight for their political agendas are standing for peace. Conservatives are racist and bigoted and their racist, bigoted rhetoric is nothing but a call to violence. Leftists are therefore justified in doing whatever it takes to stop this conservative rhetoric.
It’s an Orwellian way of justifying the left’s violence while condemning conservatives’ God-given and constitutional rights to free expression.
In the end, it’s American freedoms that suffer.
Freedom of speech is a central provision of free society, and Americans of all walks of political persuasions need to be very careful about making a case that rhetoric, any rhetoric, is too dangerous to hear. The path of censorship is a slippery slope indeed.
• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @ckchumley. Listen to her podcast “Bold and Blunt” by clicking HERE. And never miss her column; subscribe to her newsletter by clicking HERE. Her latest book, “Socialists Don’t Sleep: Christians Must Rise Or America Will Fall,” is available by clicking HERE.