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Free Speech is Not Free
Free speech means unlimited content, but with that entitlement comes responsibility.
I was a small child back in 1978 when the Nazis decided to march in Skokie, Illinois. Why Skokie? Because Nazis are assholes. According to Meghan Keneally of ABC News, “One estimate cited in a court filing from the time said that roughly 40,500 of Skokie’s 70,000 residents were Jewish.” As I write this, in 2023, we are ten years more removed from the Skokie march than the march was from the Holocaust. Not only was there a large Jewish community, but many Holocaust survivors were in residence.
Yet the ACLU defended the rights of the Nazis to march, “The notoriety of the case caused some ACLU members to resign, but to many others, the case has come to represent the ACLU’s unwavering commitment to principle.” Let’s say I do not believe our current ACLU is my parents’ version. I see many examples of the ACLU being more of a limb of the Democratic Party than a valued institution protecting free speech. But whatever they have become, the need for such an organization is why I am a staunch believer in institutions, including those that safeguard our liberties. It is not that we should eliminate or defund the ACLU, to use current jargon, but rather reform this one or create something along the lines of the 1970s version.
I should note that I was also too young to remember the theatrical release of The Blues Brothers. It was only after watching it on a Blockbuster video that I realized its greatness, including a cathartic scene where the brothers, who hate Nazis, drove them off a bridge. But consider a few key points that distinguish even what the Nazis were doing. They pre-announced their march, received permits, and concluded their demonstration in a public space, a park. Again, Nazis are assholes, so they did not do this in the spirit of the law but to gin up participation and media notoriety. But they understood what activists today do not seem to grasp fully.
Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to speak anywhere at any time. When a climate activist blocks a public street without a proper permit, they are violating the law. When that pro-choice protester shows up in a residential neighborhood after 10:00 PM to try to intimidate an originalist Supreme Court justice, they are not permitted to do so. And when there are threats, that is absolutely forbidden. This is from an ACLU handbook:
“The First Amendment does not protect a speaker who urges an angry crowd to immediately attack someone or destroy their property. Also, the First Amendment does not protect “true threats” directed against a particular person who would reasonably perceive in the message a danger of violence.”
-ACLU, Overview of the Fundamental Right to Protest
And if an opposition group demonstrates on the same day, at the same location as the original protesters? “Police must ensure that the two opposing groups do not silence or harm each other,” adds the ACLU. All of this sounds logical, but the ACLU goes further. “Governments often can require a permit for parades in the streets, given the impact on vehicle traffic. Likewise, the government often can require a permit for large protests in public parks and plazas to ensure fairness among the various groups seeking to use the site.”
There are countless examples of fools placing themselves in the streets and then shrieking with horror when arrested or when drivers move them aside. I am not advocating running them down, but they are breaking the law; the driver is not. And do not get me started if an emergency is taking place needing that thoroughfare.
There is another aspect of freedom of speech that goes beyond the law or the penal system. Regardless of what Joe Biden tells us about free college or his old boss about free healthcare, nothing in this world is free. In college, there are costs for buildings, professors, and administrators (way too many, in my estimation, but you still need one or two). Nurses and doctors are not volunteers and someone built those giant MRI machines. In healthcare, it is not the insurance companies who ultimately pay. It is the individuals, corporations, or taxpayers who pay the insurance companies. Nothing is free.
Yet Freedom of speech is not a concrete thing like a diploma or blood work. There are three prices we must pay for speech. The first I have already elucidated above. There are limits on where and when in terms of speech. The second relates to the content of tolerable speech. Many wish to dictate that nature. We have seen a position on acceptable speech from the left in terms of trigger warnings, microaggressions, and other infantile statements emanating from the university. Like a virus, these views have infected greater society. Yet, if we are to have free speech, that means unlimited speech in terms of content.
Unlike Jake and Elwood Blues, we cannot drive the Nazis off the bridge. We have to listen to, manage, and counteract their bile and hate. Not all the time, and not in our living rooms, but the speech is there. I would also argue we have to listen to Marxists, a seemingly more acceptable form of speech (especially at the universities). However, I would argue Marxism is worse than Fascism because we do not as readily see the threat. Cossacks in the 1920s, Chinese in the 1950s, and Cambodians in the 1970s, through their combined 100 million deaths, learned of the danger of Marxism. But either we have free speech or not, and since I believe we need it, I have to deal with the fantastical Marxist useful idiot talk of the utopia of the commune.
My nightmare scenario is some commission, government-mandated, of course, who takes on the job of deciding which speech is acceptable. Before you can say Jacobin, you will have commissions that are highly politicized and eliminate speech they deem hateful. We have seen the beginnings of this already, and now, even on the right. Free speech means unlimited content.
The third price we pay is more material. A business person could tell their staff, colleagues, and bosses that they are, in fact, a member of Wicca, the religion of contemporary Pagan witchcraft. They could add that if they work hard enough, they could cast a spell that would turn tofu into deep-dish pizza. It is their right to express this view, as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. It would be a bit debilitating concerning opportunities for promotion. And when there were mass layoffs, which come to most corporations, it would be, “So sorry, Mr. Warlock, but we are going to have to part ways, though it has nothing to do with your eccentric belief that you think Harry Potter was a work of non-fiction.”
Obviously, this position does not apply if a person were to express the goal of physically harming others, or themselves. That speech should entail alerting authorities equipped to handle such a situation. Unfortunately, we need to take such threats seriously.
As a conservative, I believe in individual agency, but with that power, as they would say in Spider-Man movies, comes responsibility. I can say what I want, but I must weigh that against repercussions. And workplaces are not public forums such as parks or the town square of which I have obtained a permit to rally a crowd of like believers. Workplaces exist for a host of reasons. I have worked for Fortune 500 companies with a profit motive and the American Medical Association, whose focus was on doctors. My belief that Hamas are vile terrorists is not directly relevant to those things. I can talk about my views, but again, there would be a price.
Then, there is the contention of what is reasonable. The New York Times is in the information business and runs opinion pieces daily. In 2020, James Bennet was fired as editor-in-chief of the Times for the temerity of running an op-ed by a sitting US Senator, Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Cotton believed that the Black Lives Matter rioting, as opposed to the more peaceful protests, following the death of George Floyd, was illegal and called for measures to end them. But, in the fever swamp following that incident, an editorial upholding the rule of law was forbidden. A call to uphold the rule of law wasn’t just banned, but rather the very idea of the rule of law was made almost verboten as the belief that protesters should be able to loot stores or burn police buildings as a legitimate expression of emotion. The staff of the times was not even as angry with Cotton as with Bennet for giving the Senator the platform. So Bennett was fired.
Do I agree with this? Of course not. But AG Sulzberger owns The New York Times. It is not a governmental entity, and he can fire and hire personnel as he sees fit, even for stupid reasons. This gets me to the non-hiring of pro-Hamas, anti-Semitic graduate students. As reported on CBS News,
“A New York University law student has had a job offer rescinded by a top law firm and was voted out as president of the school's Student Bar Association after stating that Israel is to blame for the Hamas attacks that have killed more than 1,400 Israelis. ‘Israel bears full responsibility for this tremendous loss of life,’ wrote Ryna Workman in the Student Bar Association newsletter. The message drew swift rebukes from members of New York University's community, as well as from Winston & Strawn, a law firm where Workman had previously been employed as an intern. Winston & Strawn said in a statement on Tuesday that it had learned of "certain inflammatory comments" regarding Hamas' attack on Israel that was distributed to the NYU Student Bar Association. However, the firm didn't refer to Workman by name.”
The term “entitled” can be overused, but for the conservative sensibility, we are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit, but not the guarantee, of happiness. We call Social Security and Medicare entitlements. But we are only entitled to them as far as the funds last. And we are not entitled to a long life or good health, as many equate the conception of these programs.
And we are not entitled to a job. During interviews, we make statements and take stances to best position ourselves for selection for the role. But note the term selection. Like Bennet at The New York Times, Workman was not entitled to employment but received such at the organization's discretion. The fact that I believe the rescinding of Workman’s job was justified and Bennet’s firing was not warranted does not matter. I neither own the Times nor control Winston and Strawn.
I have the right to be a conservative and to provide the types of beliefs you are now reading. But like Bennet and Workman, I do not have the right to employment or promotion. Sadly, beliefs such as small government, a robust presence abroad, American exceptionalism, and the value of religion have been warped by too many voices, wherein they are now seen as highly contentious. Expressing these beliefs could be deleterious to future career opportunities. But owning my beliefs and stating my goals with the Conservative Historian, I’m willing to pay the future prices because nothing, including speech, is free.
AD Tippet is the founder and Publisher of the Conservative Historian. Aves has conducted extensive research in Political, Religious, Social, and Educational history across all eras and geographies. He has been writing and podcasting for over 12 years. In 2020, he published his first book, The Conservative Historian. He has degrees in history, education, and an MBA. @BelAves
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