First Amendment Protects Unpopular Speech
By Chris Freind
Confederate statue removal. Protests. Government attempts to steamroll the First Amendment. Counter protests. Violence. Casting blame where it doesn’t belong. Political correctness reigning supreme.
Welcome to the debacle of Charlottesville, Va., where intolerance and double-standards were on full display, resulting in the most cherished American right – freedom of expression – being trampled upon to satisfy those who worship at the altar of political correctness.
Primer: The continued whitewashing of American history, in which all-things-Confederate are being dumped in the garbage, came to Charlottesville when officials decided to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee. That prompted a protest, which in turn led to counter-protests. Clashes ensued. A lone wolf schizophrenic then allegedly drove his car into the crowd, killing one and injuring dozens, prompting all hell to break loose when President Trump had the “gall” to condemn violence on all sides, instead of just those whom the politically correct disliked. It escalated to where elected officials stated that American citizens with differing viewpoints didn’t belong in Virginia, or even America.
Glad to see how much “tolerance” was exercised.
This situation has gone off the rails because too many are melding unrelated issues. Here’s an objective look:
1. Last month, the KKK organized a peaceful protest in Charlottesville. Yet the counter-protesters were a different story. They battled police by hurling objects and shooting pepper spray, and became so unlawful that police used tear gas, arresting 23. Anyone see that in the papers? Didn’t think so.
Were they condemned by the Charlottesville mayor and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe? Nope. In fact, the only condemnation was from groups criticizing the police for patrolling in riot gear (no wonder, given the “welcome” they received).
Why no condemnation? What’s worse: A peaceful protest by a group with repugnant views, or counter protesters, many also with bigoted views, inciting a riot and committing violence against police?
And what of the “emergency protest” that occurred Monday in Durham, N.C., where protesters stormed the grounds of the courthouse and obliterated a statue honoring fallen Confederate soldiers? Have their blatant crimes been prosecuted? Or even condemned? No.
The police literally stood by and watched as protesters “got a small taste of justice,” without even making an arrest. Can you believe that? How can some crimes be openly committed without any consequence, yet if it were another group desecrating a statue of a different kind, the repercussions would surely be swift and severe?
The law should be blind and universally applied. But that’s not happening. Instead, a mockery is being made of the rule of law, giving tacit approval to PC forces to continue their behavior. That selectivity must end.
2. Virginia officials did everything in their power to stop the protest before it began, despite organizers fulfilling all requirements. First, the Charlottesville mayor repeatedly criticized the groups that would be protesting, displaying a bias from the outset. Then the city denied the permit for holding the protest at Emancipation Park, the site of the statue, because counter-protesters would also be there. A federal judge overruled that decision, allowing the protest to proceed. Yet it never did, as Gov. McAuliffe declared a state of emergency, and the city declared an “unlawful assembly,” before the start time, canceling the protest and flagrantly ignoring the federal judge’s order. Mind you, this was considerably before a fringe character drove his car into the crowd.
The protesters had the right to be at Emancipation Park. If there wasn’t space for counter-protesters, then they, not the organizers, should have been moved to alternate locations. That would have been a win-win: Protecting the freedom of assembly, and mitigating violence. But that didn’t happen. Instead, elected officials, who are supposed to protect the rights of all Americans (not just those with whom they agree), blatantly disregarded the Constitution by canceling the rally outright. Ironically, when officials stifle free speech, it often leads to violence because citizens, feeling that their rights have been stripped away, take action. In no way is that condoning violence, but rights must apply to all.
3. James Alex Fields was arrested for plowing his car into counter-protesters. He reportedly harbored racist tendencies, was schizophrenic, and had no connection with protest organizers. If convicted, he should serve a lengthy prison sentence as a criminal. But that’s not what the feds want. Instead, they are labeling Fields a terrorist and want to charge him with domestic terrorism. That’s insane. He’s not a terrorist. He’s a nut job. Big difference. Labeling him a terrorist accomplishes two negative things: At first, it scares people, contributing to our all-encompassing culture of fear. But then it causes people to tune out, desensitizing them to the term “terrorist.” Like the boy who cried wolf, when a warning about true terrorists is issued, it will largely be ignored. To our peril.
4. President Trump was hammered by many, including some Republicans, for condemning violence on all sides. What was wrong with that? Truth is, the president’s critics want to give a free pass to those committing violence against white nationalists, the Klan, and police. Wrong. Violence is violence, no matter who commits it. Unfortunately, Mr. Trump, being indecisive yet again, bowed to PC pressure by effectively retracting his earlier statement, then focusing solely on white nationalists.
Instead, he should have held an off-the-cuff press conference, as only President Trump can, stating that everyone has a right to express themselves, no matter how repulsive their views. He should have then explained that it is not the job of the president to stick his nose where it doesn’t belong, issuing statements every time a crime or protest occurs, which unfortunately has become the expectation. Now, if a condemnation isn’t immediately produced, the PC trolls and some media outlets spin it as the president empathizing with the perpetrators. The problem of going down that road is obvious, but the president has yet to address it.
And are we all in second grade? Is it really necessary to officially “condemn” things that we all know are wrong? Racism and bigotry and violence are bad. Thanks. Like 99 percent of America didn’t already know that. Meaningless rhetoric solves nothing. Action and leadership does.
The role of elected officials is not to condemn individual groups, which, ironically, gives them credibility. The objective should be articulating how equality for all and special treatment for none mitigates resentment and becomes the rising tide that lifts all boats. But picking and choosing which organizations to condemn, rather than broadly criticizing their polarizing messages, denigrates politicians and sets a dangerous precedent.
5. Most disconcerting are the messages about who does, and does not, “belong” in America. Gov. McAuliffe stated that white nationalist protesters “need to leave America,” a sentiment echoed by many others.
That’s what it’s come to? Elected officials promoting a litmus test to decide who is “American,” based on a set of beliefs? It’s not without irony that many saying such things are the same ones who want to allow unvetted refugees to enter America.
If these leaders read the Constitution, they’d realize that America’s greatness stems from unfettered freedoms of speech, expression and assembly. You don’t stomp on those rights just because an organization espouses hate. You don’t flush 250 years of hard-fought gains down the toilet because small minorities on both sides hold positions that divide. And you don’t selectively enforce the law because you think you’ll score political points.
Instead, the high road should be taken by protecting the rights of everyone, allowing all voices to be heard. The United States became the freest nation on Earth not by shutting down dissent, but tolerating it. Americans aren’t dumb. They instinctively know that hearts and minds change not by usurping rights, but by putting faith in people to make the best decisions regarding their fellow man.
It’s time to stop being scared of fringe viewpoints and focus on the areas that can bring us together. Only then can we continue our path forward, with liberty and justice. For all.
First Amendment Protects Unpopular Speech