Censorship On The Rise    -   October 10, 2020

Freedom of Speech – Guaranteed to All in America?

Short answer: No, it is not!  But what about the Bill of Rights?  What about where it IS guaranteed?  What about the principle?

The First Amendment to our Constitution doesn’t give anyone, directly, a right to free speech.  Rather, it directs that no government entity may curtail free speech – “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech ...”

Over time court decisions have allowed a very few exceptions to this constraint (e.g., aiding the enemy during wartime, shouting fire in a crowded theater, etc.), and the meaning of “speech” in this context has been broadened to include virtually any form of expression.  But setting these aside, what are the major realities of the First Amendment as regards speech?

Generally, non-government entities are not so constrained.  And most of America consists of entities not established or supported by governments – households, clubs, organizations, businesses, labor unions, charities, churches, theaters, sports organizations, social media … the list goes on.  Generally, such organizations may control speech/expression by employees/members during performance of their official role, and by anyone while on their premises.  Professional sports figures, for instance, have no constitutional ‘right’ to kneel during playing of the national anthem, but their employers may allow them that discretion.

Government entities include federal, state and local governments and all their components – especially public schools and universities.  The Constitution proscribes such from promulgating laws, rules or regulations that constrain freedom of expression.

Nevertheless, since the 1960s, many or even most of these have instituted rules and regulations that limit freedom of expression in and outside of classrooms, and many allow students or faculty to suppress expression of views they don’t like.  Far too often, school officials are not challenged on such matters.  But almost always, when they are, freedom of expression wins.

There may be little legal recourse for suppression or censorship of speech by non-government entities.  But if we care about freedom of speech in America, we’d better consistently challenge its violation by government entities, especially in our schools and universities.

(For more, preview Rise and Decline here.)


HST Wants To Hear From You

History Speaks Today  values your ideas and suggestions.  Please feel free to comment on HST blogs here.