A Commitment to the First Amendment

The year 2017 was a bad year for conservative speakers.  Leaving aside the silly, infantile rantings of white supremacists for a moment, there have been legitimate voices on the Right- whether we agree with them or not- shouted down by those on the Left.

The game plan is predictable by now.  A rally, demonstration or speech is announced, some speakers brought in by some college campus group like Young Americans for Freedom or (God forbid) a college Republican organization.  Protesters who disagree with the speaker show up to disrupt the event (and “disrupt” is the language they use).  By the time the event rolls around, the protesters are a frothing gang that outnumbers those who want to hear the speaker ten-to, or 100-to one.  Things get nasty.  Those attending get cut off from their fellow audience members.  Violence ensues.  Soon, a danger to public safety is declared and the authorities shut down the event.  There are arrests- usually 90% of them are the protesters.

The counter-protesters always win because no one ever hears the speaker.  We know from the 220-page report on the debacle in Charlottesville that we had a police chief who “ordered” his force to stay behind barricades and not break up the violence occurring before them.  Hoping the situation to get so bad that the authorities can declare a public safety emergency, the end result is that speech is stifled.  We saw the same game plan played out in Berkeley, California and a century-old parade in Portland, Oregon was not held because the Republican Party had a float in the parade.

The authorities have two responsibilities: to protect free speech and ensure public safety.  In Charlottesville and too many other cities, the authorities batted zero!

The new standard of success is that arrests and injuries were held to a minimum.  That is the minimum required; it is not success.  The true standard of success is this: the speaker actually speaks and those wishing to hear them is afforded that luxury.  After that, everyone goes on their merry old way.

Police chiefs are not the only ones guilty.  Using public safety as an excuse to prohibit free speech, city managers, mayors, city councils and Governors attempt to deny a permit.  Failing in the courts, they then place onerous conditions on the permit limiting the space and time.  Sometimes, the speaker is never even heard.  Other times, they are required to post security bonds amd even when they are posted, the authorities stand by as the speaker is shouted down with profanities, noise, chants, whistles and bull horns.  In effect, the government is endorsing the classic definition of what the ACLU calls the “heckler’s veto.”

As others have noted, today’s conservative is the equivalent of the past’s Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Many court cases involve this religious sect because they were considered the most un-American at the time because they refused to salute the flag or recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  Today’s conservative speakers are a despised minority who can be endlessly bullied into silence because they are all branded “white supremacists” (some are).

To many, including the virtue signalers on the Right, they are espousing hate speech, we are told.  Indeed, some are, but hate speech is protected unless it calls for imminent violence against the assembled crowd.  This is a fact lost by many on the Right.  To those of you who believe shutting down hate speech is justified, you are no conservative.

We are told that these speakers like Milo Yiannapolis and Ben Shapiro are accused of trying to rile up the Left.  Unless they are advocating violence, the First Amendment says little about motive.  Many are rhetorical bomb throwers, but I will take a rhetorical bomb to a real bomb any day.

Do these Leftist counter-protesters have free speech rights?  They certainly do, as does the person with the legitimate legal permit to speak that day.  Their right to free speech before and after an event is absolute, but during a speech?  Yeah- not so much!  Nor do they have a right to block entries, nor a right to drown anyone out.

But, someone got killed in Charlottesville, we are reminded.  There was a death and the perpetrator should face the full penalty of the law and treated as a terrorist.  But, let us be reminded that Heather Heyer died while unlawfully assembled two hours after a state of emergency was declared.  Perhaps if the police enforced that order with equal veracity against counter-protesters as they did against the miscreant white supremacists, there would be one less death today.

Counter-protesters are free to organize alternate events and should do so.  A perfect example is the July, 2017 KKK rally in Charlottesville where the speakers at that rally spoke to an echo chamber of a few listeners.  The remainder of the fine folks of that city attended these alternative events and there was barely a scintilla of violence.

As true conservatives, we must distance ourselves from the heated, racist rhetoric coming from some who portray themselves as being conservative.  They have nothing in common with true conservativism and should be called out, distanced from and denounced as the need arises.  But, neither should they be denied the right to free speech no matter how vile or disgusting their statements.  When we give up just a little in this area- the absolute right to free speech- it is not only the white supremacists who lose.  We all lose.

Here is hoping that in 2018 conservatism re-embraces the guarantees of the First Amendment.  Defense of our Constitutional rights takes precedence over virtue signaling.

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