Targeting Free Expression
Free expression is at risk in America.
by Stephen Lendman
Free expression in all forms is fundamental in democratic societies. Without it, all other freedoms are at risk.
Included are free speech, a free press, freedom of thought, culture, and intellectual inquiry. It also includes the right to challenge government authority peacefully, especially in times of war and cases of injustice, lawlessness, official incompetence, and abusive government behavior.
Denying it risks tyranny. Voltaire defended it, saying "I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
Howard Zinn called dissent "the highest form of patriotism." It includes the right to speak and write freely, assemble, protest publicly, and associate with anyone for any reason lawfully.
Democracy depends on it. Bill of Rights freedoms affirm it. Nonetheless, US history is strewn with abusive laws. The 1798 Sedition Act criminalized publishing "false, scandalous and malicious writing" against President John Adams or Congress, but allowed it against Vice President Thomas Jefferson.
The 1917 Espionage Act imprisoned anyone convicted of "insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or (encouraging) refusal of duty in the military or naval forces of the United States."
It targeted First Amendment speech against WW I and American's participation in it. The 1918 Sedition Act went further. It criminalized "disloyal, scurrilous (or) abusive" anti-government speech.
The Supreme Court upheld the Espionage Act, notably in (Eugene) Debs v. United States. A five-time socialist presidential candidate, he served prison time for opposing militarism and America's WW I entry.
In 1968, the Warren Court disallowed draft card burning on grounds it would disrupt the "smooth and efficient functioning" of American recruitment.
However, in 1969, the Court upheld student rights to wear black arm bands, protesting the Vietnam War. In Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), it ruled government can't punish inflammatory speech unless directed to incite lawless action.
In Texas v. Johnson (a 1989 flag burning case), Justice William Brennan wrote the majority opinion, saying:
"(I)f there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable."
America has no Brennans today. As a result, speech and all other liberties are threatened. Under either major party, the nation's hurtling toward tyranny.