Reading about the events in Boston Common this weekend brought cheer to and cheers from this arch-conservative. The First Amendment — the clause holding that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech (free speech)” (which has been extended to the States) — has recently taken some undeserved hard knocks.
Freedom of speech is being indicted as a euphemism and a justification for hate speech. Naïve hostility toward the First Amendment betrays a certain ignorance of how free speech works in practice (as well as a good-in-and-of-itself civil liberty). Follow along.
According to media reports, around 40 “free speech” advocates — under suspicion of being white nationalism advocates — showed up at the Common’s pavilion. Meanwhile, an estimated 40,000 anti-bigotry protestors flooded the Common to exercise their own right to free speech.
This event calls to mind a famous observation by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who, in a concurring opinion to Whitney v. California, wrote:
“If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” (Emphasis supplied.)
Clearly, 40,000-to-40 represents a decisive victory for “more speech, not enforced silence.” May the Angry Snowflakes of collegiate America take note.
In reading about the rallies, I experienced a twinge of nostalgia. The lightly-attended “free speech” rally was held by the Boston Common pavilion. In 2009, at the same pavilion, I served as the co-emcee of the July 4th Boston Tea Party rally. The Tea Party was a rising force.
Therein hangs a rather lovely free speech tale.
The primary organizer of that event, Brad Marston, emailed a distress signal to the participants a few days before it was scheduled to occur to the effect that the permit had still not issued.
In response I offered to call Teddy Kennedy’s office and ask if they’d intervene. I thereupon called Julie Rynder, Sen. Kennedy’s Boston office manager — a bigger job than the unassuming title might indicate. I requested her help. Notwithstanding the profound political differences between the Senator and the Tea Party we shared a common devotion to the Constitution and civil liberties.
Shortly thereafter, Brad received notification that the permit was issued. I advised him that I intended to blow Senator Kennedy a big rhetorical kiss from the proscenium. Possibly to the confusion of some in the rather modest crowd of Tea Partiers who assembled I did just that.
Free speech is a cherished value among classical liberals of the left as well as the right.
As to today, according to the report in The Washington Post:
“[Boston Police Commissioner William] Evans said there were three groups of people in attendance: attendees of the ‘free speech’ rally, counter protesters, and a small group of people who showed up to cause trouble.
“’Overall everyone did a good job,’ Evans said. ‘99.9 percent of people were here for the right reason, and that’s to fight bigotry.’
“Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh met up with the counterprotesters at the march.
‘I think it’s clear today that Boston stood for peace and love, not bigotry and hate,’ he said.
“President Donald Trump praised law enforcement and Mayor Marty Walsh via tweet Saturday afternoon for their handling of the crowds, saying that there appeared to be ‘many anti-police agitators in Boston.’ More than an hour later, he tweeted support for protesters.
“’Our great country has been divided for decades. Sometimes you need protest in order to heal, & we will heal, & be stronger than ever before!’ and ‘want to applaud the many protestors in Boston who are speaking out against bigotry and hate. Our country will soon come together as one!’”
America has a lovely tradition of intolerance toward intolerance. As President Washington famously wrote to the leaders of the 300-member Newport, Rhode Island Jewish congregation:
“The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.
“It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.
“May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.”
There is, of course, more work to be done. It is a very good sign that Americans are now rising up to do it and to demand that our political leaders step up as well. There remains an unacceptable strain of racism in our culture. One glaring example, among too many, is that the rate of incarceration of African-Americans for petty drug offenses is vastly disproportionate to that imposed upon whites guilty of the same offenses.
As an arch-conservative I naturally find the persistence of racism totally unacceptable. Thus, I cheer on such firebrands as Black Lives Matter. I even applaud the often-overheated Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) for her unflagging crusade against racism. As the great Barry Goldwater once said, “moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
Some years ago, in my seemingly endless advocacy of the gold standard, I remember noting a Rasmussen poll that showed African-Americans as among the gold standard’s most enthusiastic supporters. So, I made it my business to visit the offices of as many Congressional Black Caucus Members as would receive me. I was always received cordially. One legislative aide’s welcome was especially memorable: “Well, come right in! You’re the first white Republican to walk through our door in more years than I can remember!”
What an indictment of the GOP! High time for the Freedom Caucus and the Black Caucus to be caucusing together.
The 40,000 anti-bigotry demonstrators in Boston exercising their own right of free speech showed the 40 or so souls who may well have been advocating white nationalism to be like no more than a grain of sand to an oyster. Such is the power of “more speech.”
Back to Brandeis:
“Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the state was to make men free to develop their faculties, and that in its government the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that without free speech and assembly discussion would be futile; that with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government.”
Indeed. Liberty is the secret of happiness and courage the secret of liberty. Freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth. Free speech is the antidote to the dissemination of noxious doctrine.
Source: Forbes. We have added section headings, information, and/or comments for clarity.