Defending First Amendment Rights is necessary in lots of places, by lots of people. Sometimes, the ‘powers that be’ just need reminding a little.
Freedom of Speech: What is it Worth, and What Does it Really Mean?
- Can we say whatever we like? – well, no, not really. You can say whatever you like as long as you don’t insult anybody, tell a lie, go against the views of some members of authority, say something which is unpopular with the federal government, give away any secrets, or upset anybody ‘important’. Apartment from that and a whole load more, you can say whatever you like really.
- Can we do whatever we like? – well, of course not. I mean, you are free to go about your daily business just so long as you don’t violate any laws, obstruct the law from going about its business, argue with the law or behave ‘inappropriately’ – whatever that means.
- Can we think whatever we like? – yep, as long as you don’t tell anybody. They’re not mind readers you know!
But surely, the First Amendments rights say that we can do all of those things, kind of!
A Hypothetical Situation to Consider
Let’s do something hypothetical (haven’t done anything hypothetical for ages), let’s pretend that ‘somebody’ disagreed with ‘somebody else’ and wanted to tell the whole world about it (or at least anyone passing by on their way to the store or on their lunch break). Now, if this ‘somebody else’ was ‘somebody important’ in, let’s say, federal government, and the first ‘somebody’ didn’t agree with what he stood for or what he said, this first ‘somebody’ would be allowed to express his opinion – right? Again, no, not really. Well he maybe ought to be permitted to express his opinion, but whether in reality that would happen is another matter altogether.
Okay, enough of the hypothetical, all these ‘somebody’s’ are confusing even to me, let’s talk about John Blair when he wanted to protest about Vice President Dick Cheney. One man with a banner – that’s all. What happened next?
- The local cops tried to shift him aside.
- They tried to force him to stay 500 feet away from the event (500 feet, you’d need an awfully big banner to get your message across from 500 feet) – but the cops called it a ‘protest zone.’
- Instead, John Blair crossed the street, held up his banner and was promptly arrested for ‘disorderly conduct’.
Disorderly conduct – how does that work? Surely he was only exercising his rights to Freedom of Speech.
Defending First Amendment Rights
Subsequently, a District Court Judge vindicated Blair’s rights to free speech, and ruled that the authorities had “violated his constitutional rights by restricting his movement and arresting him before the event.”
All’s well that ends well then. The problem is, he still didn’t get to show his banner, did he?