The increasing importance of the First Amendment (Part II)

Although the Democrats and Progressives in Congress, together with the F.D. Roosevelt Administration did not pass any such laws restricting or limiting free speech and the press, FDR did use the power of radio through the “Fireside Chats” to bypass those opposed to his plans and take his message directly to the American public.  The American public was more than willing to the message brought by FDR who not only demonized capitalism, but demeaned those that tried to protect the American economy and private sector from relentless intrusions by the progressives now in charge of the national government.  The Great Depression, and later World War II, served as a backdrop to FDR’s message of “trust the government…” to a weary and worn public.  For the meantime, FDR was able to quell any public dissent against his agenda.

48 Days Personality Profiles

In the mid to late 1980s, the term “hate speech” was in its infancy and used as a means to define any speech that could be considered “objectionable” to others. Now the term simply refers to any speech that is remotely different or inconsistent with the politically correct crowd.  As I have said within my college courses, I may not agree with what members of the Ku Klux Klan, the New Black Panther Party, Nation of Islam, or the Westboro Baptist Church people, but these Americans must have the uninfringed right to speak their mind and to promote their ideas.  Now, within the early decades of the 21st century, anyone that is publicly opposed to the GLBT lifestyle to include gay marriage now can find themselves at the mercy of a progressive controlled federal and state court system determined to claim that opposition to an alternative lifestyle based on religious teachings adhered to by an individual is worthy of official sanction through fines and even jail time.  Just as flag burning has been considered as “protected speech” and it is technically an action, refusing service to a customer is also an action that is a clear demonstration of speech, although the court system has never validated that particular argument.  A Senior Master Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force has recently been “disciplined” for having a personal opinion, although based in his religious belief, against the gay lifestyle and homosexual marriage.  The perception of the entire incident is that he was asked by a commanding officer about his views on both homosexual marriage and homosexuality, and later reassigned because of his answers.  The freedom of speech must never be impeded upon for the sake of political correctness.

Freedom of speech and press are undoubtedly tied together.  As a free society, one cannot deny the individual freedom of speech, and then have a free press. The freedom of speech has little value if the press is not similarly free.  Freedom of speech allows the citizen to share their ideas and their viewpoints, but it is the freedom of the press that gives that voice volume.  Again, the founding generation knew this all too well – had the British crown been successful in stifling the colonial presses, then the ideas of Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel and John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin would have had a much smaller audience and may not have been able to sway the masses in favor of Revolution. It was Benjamin Franklin who stated in The Pennsylvania Gazette, in the April 8, 1736 edition:

Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free Government; when this support is taken away, the Constitution of a free Society is dissolved, and Tyranny is erected on its ruins. Republics and limited Monarchies derive their strength and vigor from a popular examination into the action of the Magistrates.

Within the very notion of liberty that these men – the founding fathers – envisioned for our nation was the idea that the average citizen must have a voice and that there must be a vehicle to allow that voice to be heard.  I do believe that Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and John Jay knew that the future held great possibilities in communication.  Within the above quote, Franklin states what we have come to accept as a truth.  Without the freedoms of the press and of speech, there would be little possibility of the citizenry exposing the corruption that would eventually lead to oppression and the eventual emergence of tyranny.  Where there is freedom of speech and freedom of press, dissention against policies and programs can not only serve to keep our nation’s politicians accountable and can impact the next election. It has been said that where a free press exists, the government is held accountable.

The understanding of this generation of politicians and the generation that wrote the Constitution are vastly different; the founding fathers wrote it to protect the rights of the individual citizen and the politicians today see it as an impediment to increased governmental bureaucracy. The ultimate question that each American must ask is whether the next generation of Americans will enjoy the unfettered freedom of speech and the press or if they should be surrendered for some notion of “the greater good.”

Alan Simmons

Alan Simmons is an adjunct instructor of history at Henderson Community College. He has been teaching at the college/university level since 2004. Within the scope of his degrees, his areas of emphasis are U.S. foreign policy, public policy history, political history, and U.S. history.

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