By Larry Alton
This country was founded on the premise of freedom of speech. In fact, it’s so integral to the fabric of this nation that it was included in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But over the past century, this right has been under attack. And it’s all come to a head since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is Free Speech?
The term “freedom of speech” gets thrown around a lot these days. And while we’re blessed to live in a country where we can even debate this topic, the reality is that those on the Left have perverted the idea of free speech and shrunk it down to something that it is not.
To say that free speech is merely a shadow of what it once was would be a huge understatement. So before we dig into some concrete ways everyday folks like us can protect and capitalize on our right to free speech, let’s strip it back to the basics and look at what the Constitution says:
First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
While there are a lot of big words, the meaning is clear. The First Amendment basically protects five different freedoms: speech, religion, press, assembly, and the ever-important right to petition the government. And when you combine these five freedoms together, it makes the United States of America the most free country in the entire world. (In fact, you could argue it makes the U.S. the freest country in the history of the world — and there’s hardly even a debate.)
When the Founders began the process of creating a constitution that would serve as the backbone for the United States, they were essentially starting an experiment. At that point, nearly every nation was led by a king, emperor, or dictator. The average citizen had no rights, very limited freedoms, and absolutely no power or voice in the election of these rulers. In fact, they had just come on a boat from a country where the very oppression of freedoms pushed them out.
Freedom of speech wasn’t just some afterthought that government officials threw into the mix for the sake of putting ink to paper. It was at the very core of the entire thing.
As founding father Benjamin Franklin once wrote in the Pennsylvania Gazette, “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.”
Freedom of speech is designed to protect Americans from being silenced by the government. It can be used to promote social or political change. Likewise, it can be used to oppose change. The First Amendment protects citizens against government censorship and limitations of freedom of expression, though it does not prevent private companies from setting their own rules. (This is a very important point that must be taken into account anytime freedom of speech limitations come into question.)
Because we live in a world of high-tech communication that’s underscored by the internet and social media, it’s impossible to have a discussion about free speech without bringing online platforms into the conversation. And, admittedly, this is where it gets a little sticky.
Because most social media platforms and large online media companies overwhelmingly have a liberal slant or bias, it’s often difficult for those on the right side of conversations to express themselves without being attacked or censored.
As NewAmerica.org puts it, “In an inequitable and unjust world, ‘neutral’ platforms and institutions will perpetuate and even exacerbate inequities and power imbalances unless they understand and adjust for those inequities and imbalances.”
This is where the real fight is today. While you won’t find many government officials overtly silencing their constituents, you will find massive organizations disguised as private companies dictating the flow of information online. And this is where more than 20 different international coalitions of civil society organizations are focusing their energy and effort. Those at the forefront of the fight to reclaim freedom of speech and cancel undue online censorship are fighting to do things like:
- Protect individual rights to freedom of expression online;
- Enable universal access to the internet (for full and equitable participation);
- Require transparency and oversight with how different governments and companies access and use the personal data of users;
- Enable (and even incentivize) greater diversity of platforms and communication services.
In other words, we can’t give all of the power to companies like Facebook and Google, who are able to censor half of the country’s voice based on the fact that they’re technically “private” companies who have the right to set their own rules. Because once a company becomes big enough to control the discourse of a nation, the rules no longer apply to them. At that point, there are only two real options: (1) Disband the company and/or allow additional competition to rise (and thereby provide more avenues for objective discourse), or (2) Prevent the company from limiting the speech of its users. That might sound extreme, but it’s reality.
Ways You Can Capitalize on Your Freedom of Speech
The good news is that the First Amendment still exists. It’s part of the Constitution and you have every right to protection that it offers. But here’s the bad news: If we don’t start standing up for our rights and using these freedoms, they’ll start to fade. And while it might take 10, 20, or even 100 years, the government will take these freedoms from us. Now is the time to stand up. Here are several ways you can do it:
- Publish your own content. While platforms like Facebook might silence conservative content and talking points, there are plenty of other ways to let your voice be heard online. For example, you can always start your own blog. In fact, The Blog Starter will show you how to do it in just 20 minutes. And once you’re up and running, you can begin publishing content and ideas for meaningful dialogue.
- Engage thoughtful discourse. When you do spend time on traditional social media platforms, make it a point to only engage in thoughtful discourse. In other words, stay away from the toxic, argumentative traps that other people lay. Instead, join groups and make friends with those who are willing to look at both sides of an issue. The more these types of conversations are pushed to the top, the more media platforms have to give room for objective discussion.
- Support First Amendment groups. Finally, put your money where your mouth is. Find free speech groups that you believe in and support them with your time and dollars. Oftentimes, this is the best use of your resources. They have the ability to pool money from thousands of different places, which gives them the power to spark change.
Now’s the Time to Stand Up
In the words of our first president, George Washington, “If men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.”
Let us not be led to the slaughter, dumb, silent, and cooperative. Instead, let’s stand up while it’s possible to do so. The best way to protect freedom of speech is to use it. Whether that’s starting your own blog, changing the way you engage people online, or supporting various freedom of speech groups, there are plenty of steps you can take. Now’s the time to step up!