Left and Right Assault Free Speech

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published July 22, 2011, by Grand Junction Free Press.

Within a week of Independence Day, representatives of the left and right started lining up to assault free speech and advocate censorship.

On July 7 Michele Bachmann, a Republican candidate for president, signed a pledge from the Family Leader to “protect” women from “all forms of pornography.” The next day, guests on Thom Hartmann’s “progressive” radio show called for a Constitutional amendment to censor political speech. God help us if they ever reach a “bipartisan” agreement to gut the First Amendment.

We’ll start with Bachmann. The pledge she signed neglects to specify what should be done about pornography. But this is a pledge for candidates, so we can sensibly conclude the intent is to pass laws limiting or outlawing pornography. Moreover, the pledge equates pornography with slavery and the murder of children, and obviously those latter two things should be outlawed. (The pledge also suggests abortion should be banned, but that’s the topic for another article.)

The first problem is who gets to decide which naked pictures constitute high art and which get banned as pornographic. For example, R. Crum’s illustrated Genesis features a nude Adam and Eve, both looking quite healthy (and neither wearing a fig leaf). Should we ban that?

Pornography can be written text as well as images. Chapter 19 of Genesis features Lot’s daughters getting him drunk and then having sex with him. The daughters get pregnant, having sons who go on to found the Moabites and Ammonites.

So who in Bachmann’s world gets to decide which sexually explicit images and texts rise to the sacred and which deserve criminal prosecution? What about Playboy? What about romance novels? What about Michelangelo’s sculpture of David?

Obviously the government has a legitimate interest in protecting the rights of children, who have not reached the age of consent. But consenting adults properly have the right to engage in whatever behavior they want, free from political interference. Anything short of that standard leads logically to the incremental destruction of individual rights.

While Bachmann deserves the harshest criticism for her frankly idiotic move to sign the pledge, the left’s censors deserve even harsher condemnation. They should know better. There was a time in this country when the left actually took free speech seriously. Not anymore.

Hartmann’s guests made two recommendations. First, amend the U.S. Constitution such that only registered voters may donate funds to a campaign or issue group, and regional politicians may limit the amount donated. Second, finance all campaigns for public office with tax dollars. Both these measures blatantly violate freedom of speech.

The purpose of the proposed amendment is to prevent corporations and other groups from funding campaigns. But who gets to decide which people are qualified voters? Some people don’t register to vote for ideological reasons; do they lose their rights of speech? Apparently seventeen-year-olds lose their rights.

Even if the amendment were restricted to individuals, rather than qualified voters, it still would violate people’s rights. True, as leftists monotonously drone, corporations aren’t people. But apparently leftists have neglected to notice that corporations are comprised of people. So are unions. So are educational organizations.

Individuals have the right of free speech, and they have the right to join with others to speak. People don’t lose their rights merely by collaborating with others.

Limiting the amount people can give to political causes also violates their rights of free speech as well as property. People have the right to support the speech of their choice, whether by lending a printing press, handing out flyers, or donating money to help somebody else speak. Limiting people’s ability to support the speech of their choice constitutes censorship.

What about “publicly” funded campaigns? The freedom of speech entails the right not to speak. If somebody forces you to stand up and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or the Communist Manifesto, or whatever, that violates your rights of free speech. Likewise, forcing people to financially support speech against their will violates their freedom of speech.

An important practical problem is who gets to decide which candidates “deserve” tax dollars. Can just any kook declare to be a candidate and go on the campaign dole? Obviously that wouldn’t work, so somebody would be in charge of blessing the “right” candidates with political welfare.

Notice that both Bachmann and Hartmann’s guests offer their pretexts for imposing censorship. The religious right often claims that pornography promotes sexual promiscuity and so on. The left claims that money in politics corrupts it.

Censors of all stripes unite in their belief that individuals are just too stupid to make their own decisions, and therefore they need benevolent politicians and bureaucrats to do their thinking for them. No presumption could be more deadly to a free republic.