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Freedom Of Speech: Can You Really Say Anything You Want?

Off The Grid Theology
Freedom of Speech: Can You Really Say Anything You Want?

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If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable.       

— Justice William Brennan, Texas v. Johnson (1989)

What is the liberty of the press?

Who can give it any definition which would not leave the utmost latitude for evasion?

—Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers, #84 (1788)

The First Amendment

“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.”

This is the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.  It guarantees, among other things, freedom of speech.  The clause that contains the words “freedom of speech” also adds “or of the press.”  It recognizes that each in some measure is involved in the other.

The first clause protects the “free exercise” of religion, something that obviously includes the freedom to espouse ideas and doctrines that others in the community might find objectionable.  The last clause says the people have the right to assemble peaceably and “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  These, too, have implications for both speaking and writing.

The impetus for the First Amendment came from the Anti-Federalists, patriots who looked at the proposed Constitution with grave, even violent, suspicion.  These men, generally writing out of a true concern for civil liberty, were afraid that the Constitution would create a tyrannical central government and threaten the very liberties they had fought a war to reassert and defend.  Some of the Anti-Federalists were never reconciled to the new order, but others were willing to sign on if the Constitution was supplied with a bill of rights.  In the end, the Federalist agreed.

Hamilton’s Objections

Writing in a series of articles eventually collected as The Federalist (1788), Alexander Hamilton argued that a bill of rights was not only unnecessary, but also quite possibly dangerous.  He argued, for instance, that the “freedom of the press” was incapable of any clear definition.

Freedom of Speech: Can You Really Say Anything You Want?Who can give it any definition which would not leave the utmost latitude for evasion?  I hold it to be impracticable; and from this, I infer, that its security, whatever fine declarations may be inserted in any constitution respecting it, must altogether depend on public opinion, and on the general spirit of the people and of the government.  And here, after all, as intimated upon another occasion, must we seek for the only solid basis of all our rights (#84).

Hamilton distrusted what he saw as meaningless platitudes. He thought, rather, that the meaning and defense of “the freedom of the press” must rest with the character and conscience of the people and their elected officials.  By extension, the same would be true for that broader category: freedom of speech.

Liberty in France

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, France’s National Assembly was pounding out its own manifesto concerning human rights:  The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789).  With regard to freedom of speech, the Declaration said this:

No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.

The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.

The revolutionary government wanted to glory in freedom, but it inevitably had to recognize that the words “freedom of speech” needed context and qualification.  Public order required it.  Therefore the State would have to set limits on this hypothetical freedom.  But the National Assembly, beyond a general appeal to natural rights and a respect for the liberty of others, did not give specific standards or guidelines for the laws that might properly define and limit freedom of speech.

The Source of Liberty

Freedom of Speech: Can You Really Say Anything You Want?

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Freedom needs definition … it needs boundaries.  Absolute freedom, true anarchy, is simply chaos, and necessarily ends in the triumph and tyranny of the man with the most guns — or a controlling share in the media.  True freedom requires order, but an order that respects the image of God in man, that does not coerce private opinion, and that does not require a man to sin against his own conscience.  In other words, true freedom requires the boundaries of law.

But the question is:  Which law?  Or whose law?  By what standard should we or can we measure out and limit true freedom?  Which law-order, if any, is truly compatible with liberty?

Once again we return to the issue of ontology or “being.” If reality is at bottom undifferentiated spirit or impersonal atomistic matter, then any talk of right or of rights is meaningless.  What is, is right.  There is no transcendent standard by which right and wrong may be measured, no absolute beyond existence by which we might legitimately say, “This is right, and this is wrong.”  And in the absence of any applicable moral absolutes, the concept of human rights is dead in the water.  We may speak of “rights” granted by society or the State, but this is pure chimera.  Such “rights” are nothing but bare permission for the moment and can be taken away as easily as they were granted.  No harm, no foul.  What is … is “right.”

Only on the basis of a transcendent Absolute can there be any real talk of right and wrong or of human rights.  Liberty, to be anything more than bare, momentary permission from the existing social order, must be rooted in an Absolute that stands outside of and beyond all human social order and all created reality.  Liberty is meaningful only on the presupposition of the personal Creator God, who both transcends creation and is immanent within it, and who has spoken to man in words he can understand.  A meaningful concept of liberty presupposes the Triune God of Scripture.

What Do the Scriptures Say?

But it isn’t enough to say that liberty comes from God.  We must actually search God’s Word to see how His law provides for and limits freedom – in this case, freedom of speech.  We must especially note the difference God’s law makes in this area between sins and crimes.  Not every sin is a crime.  Not every lie or bit of gossip or angry exclamation is a crime as far as Scripture is concerned.  By principle and case law, Scripture tells us what limits civil law ought to place on speech and related forms of communication.

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2 comments

  1. “This is the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. It guarantees, among other things, freedom of speech.”

    No, though this listed within the US Constitution, it is not guaranteed by the US Constitution. The Bill of Rights are a list (enumerated) of things that were NOT delegated to either the state or federal governments, but were retained by the People. Those things are PROTECTED within the US Constitution along with other natural rights and other rights throughout history that the framers felt the people had, or should always have as safety FROM those that serve within our governments. But who protects those non delegated rights of the people according to the US Constitution? Because they were not delegated, but retained by the people, those that serve within our government have NO lawful authority of any type over them.

    Governments throughout history have murdered their own people for many reasons, or no reasons (democide). Most governments “own” the people, and those people MUST obey it – we call them Tyrants, Dictators, Kings, etc.

    The framers, and a great many of our forefathers, were well versed in history – unlike we are today – and they wanted to avoid a government that could do that to its own people. They created a government that was separated in its duties, that the people who served within it were bound by a Oath to the DOCUMENT(S) that was (were) the government – not the people who served within it/them.

    It is in writing, and available to all, that way everyone could know exactly what those who serve within our government are allowed to do BECAUSE it IS in writing within the US Constitution and each state’s Constitution. The authority used by those that serve within our government is not theirs, it comes from the branch of office within a branch that has the delegated powers.

    Benjamin Franklin: “In free governments the rulers are the servants, and the people their superiors and sovereigns. For the former, therefore, to return among the latter was not to degrade but to promote them.”

    The Preamble to the Bill of Rights makes it very clear that those things enumerated there are above the delegated powers they are allowed to use. There are a few instances where if certain conditions are met, those who serve within our government may do certain listed things IF, and only if, those things are done within certain listed boundaries.

    Preamble to the Bill of Rights: “Congress OF THE United States begun and held at the City of New York, on Wednesday the Fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.
    THE Conventions of a number of the States having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution.”

    Patrick Henry: “The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government.”

    President Andrew Johnson: “Outside of the Constitution we have no legal authority more than private citizens, and within it we have only so much as that instrument gives us. This broad principle limits all our functions and applies to all subjects.”

    Dr. Edwin Vieira: “This has nothing to do with personalities or subjective ideas. It’s a matter of what the Constitution provides…

    The government of the United States has never violated anyone’s constitutional rights…
    The government of the United States will never violate anyone constitutional rights, because it CANNOT violate anyone’s constitutional rights. The reason for that is: The government of the United States is that set of actions by public officials that are consistent with the Constitution. Outside of its constitutional powers, the government of the United States has no legitimacy. It has no authority; and, it really even has no existence. It is what lawyers call a legal fiction.

    … the famous case Norton v. Shelby County… The Court said: “An unconstitutional act is not a law; it confers no rights; it imposes no duties. It is, in legal contemplation, as inoperative as though it had never been passed.”

    And that applies to any (and all) governmental action outside of the Constitution…”
    What are the defining characteristics of a limited government? They are its disabilities; what it does not have legal authority to do. Look at the First Amendment… What does it do? It guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of religion. But how does it do that? I quote: “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press” etcetera. “Congress shall make no law;” that’s a statement of an absence of power. That’s a statement of a disability.” (end Dr. Vieira quote)

    James Madison said, these things are found within the US Constitution: “That all power is originally vested in, and consequently derived from the people. That government is instituted and ought to be exercised for the benefit of the people; which consists in the enjoyment of life and liberty and the right of acquiring property, and generally of pursing and obtaining happiness and safety. That the people have an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform or change their government whenever it be found adverse or inadequate to the purpose of its institution.”

    And that: “The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship…The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable. The people shall not be restrained from peaceably assembling and consulting for their common good; nor for applying to the legislature by petitions or remonstrances for redress of their grievances…The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

    Plus: “The rights of the people to be secured in their persons, their houses, their papers, and their other property from all unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated by warrants issued without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, or particularly describing the places to be searched, or the persons or things to be seized.”

    He also said: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial to be informed of the cause and nature of the accusation, to be confronted with his accusers and the witnesses against him; to have a compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor; and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.” (End Madison quotes)

    “But the question is: Which law? Or whose law? By what standard should we or can we measure out and limit true freedom? Which law-order, if any, is truly compatible with liberty?”

    I believe that Benjamin Franklin answers that question (and Patrick Henry below): “Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.”

    Patrick Henry: “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.”

    Thomas Jefferson: “The government created by this compact (the Constitution) was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers; but that, as in all other cases of compact among powers having no common judge, each party (the people of each state) has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions as of the mode and measure of redress.”

    Alexander Hamilton: “Every act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers, may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.”

    Daniel Webster: “We may be tossed upon an ocean where we can see no land – nor, perhaps, the sun or stars. But there is a chart and a compass for us to study, to consult, and to obey. That chart is the Constitution.”

    So, back to “who” defends those rights and enforces the Constitutions of our constitutional republic according to the US Constitution?

    Thomas Paine: “Those who expect to reap the benefits of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”

    Each state’s Militia is made up of “We the People” protecting our own interests, homes, states, nation, and enforcing our governments. The Militia has as its constitutionally assigned duties in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 15 to:

    — Enforce the US Constitution (supreme law of this land) and each state’s Constitution (highest law of the state),
    — Enforce and keep the “Laws of the Union” (which are constitutional laws ONLY),
    — Protect the country against all enemies both domestic and foreign, and
    — “to suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions”

    Clause 15: “To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel invasions. “

    That “We the People…” have not done our constitutional duty is why America is where she is now. Free Speech is the right to say anything you want as long as what you say will not cause physical damage/death to another person; or damage their property.

    George Washington, “Sentiments on a Peace Establishment”: “It may be laid down, as a primary position, and the basis of our system, that every citizen who enjoys the protection of a free government…, but even of his personal services to the defence of it, and consequently that the Citizens of America (with a few legal and official exceptions) from 18 to 50 Years of Age should be borne on the Militia Rolls, provided with uniform Arms, and so far accustomed to the use of them, that the Total strength of the Country might be called forth at Short Notice on any very interesting Emergency.” (letter to Alexander Hamilton; “The Writings of George Washington”)

    George Washington, Farewell Address: “It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free Country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective Constitutional spheres; avoiding in the exercise of the Powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create whatever the form of government, a real despotism. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power; by dividing and distributing it into different depositories, and constituting each the Guardian of the Public Weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them.”

    Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Papers: “What is the liberty of the press? Who can give it any definition which would not leave the utmost latitude for evasion?”

    Justice William Brennan, Texas v. Johnson (1989): “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable.”

    Justice William O. Douglas, Terminiello v. City of Chicago (1949): “The vitality of civil and political institutions in our society depends on free discussion… It is only through free debate and free exchange of ideas that government remains responsive to the will of the people and peaceful change is effected. The right to speak freely and to promote diversity of ideas and programs is therefore one of the chief distinctions that sets us apart from totalitarian regimes.”

  2. I miss d idea of sayin ANYTHIN i like included insulting, harrasing n deathtreating i mean nobody woud die just by hearing d wörds rite =/ its a crybaby society where u cant say or do anythin we like its a fkn joke dat errybody shoud just start killing eachother if we decriminolized murder 2morro

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