A University of Chicago law professor opined on Slate.com Tuesday that people in the United States overvalue free speech. Eric Posner, who wrote “The World Doesn’t Love the First Amendment,” said the violence at our foreign embassies illustrate the need to curtail our First Amendment freedom of speech.
Here’s a news flash: The world doesn’t need to love our First Amendment, as the article’s headline suggests. It doesn’t even have to respect it. It only has to accept it. It’s not anyone else’s constitutional decree but America’s. It’s ours alone, and it’s worked quite well for us for over 200 years, thank you.
Our forebears planted roots in this little part of the world precisely because they were tired of living under the onerous rules of England and Europe. They wanted, among other things, to be free to express their opinions and ideas without fear of reprisal from an all-powerful government.
Posner wrote that freedom of speech was never a big deal in the United States until the 1960s, when its banner was taken up among “the left, who cheered when the courts ruled that government could not suppress the speech of dissenters, critics, scandalous artistic types, and even pornographers.”
Posner then seemed to suggest that the First Amendment only became a problem beginning in the 1980s, when “conservatives … discovered in its uncompromising text — ‘Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech’ — support for their own causes. These include unregulated campaign speech, unregulated commercial speech, and limited government,” but most of all, in Posner’s opinion, as a foil to “political correctness.”
It’s only through the open exchange of ideas that the truth can be ascertained and societal advances made. Occasionally, the process evokes hurt feelings. However, were it not for this sometimes-painful procedure, we’d still be burning women at the stake as witches or, if living in another part of the world, stoning them to death as adulterers.
But there’s a larger issue at stake here. Freedom of speech is an inalienable human right, and as such, cannot be surrendered or transferred without the consent of its possessor.
Finally, Posner lamented that although the U.S. government lacked the authority to censor the anti-Islam video that purportedly led to the unrest on the other side of the world, Google could.
“And so combining the liberal view that government should not interfere with political discourse, and the conservative view that government should not interfere with commerce, we end up with the bizarre principle that U.S. foreign policy interests cannot justify any restrictions on speech whatsoever,” Posner wrote. “Instead, only the profit-maximizing interests of a private American corporation can. Try explaining that to the protesters in Cairo or Islamabad.”
I say we owe them no explanation whatsoever. It may not give us love, but it may earn us respect. On MSNBC on Tuesday, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said of the United States: “If I were you, I would sort of give up on being loved. If that’s your ambition as still the world’s greatest power, give up on it, because it’s not going to happen.”
Stated differently, the United States can either stand by its principles and earn the world’s respect, or stand by everyone else’s principles and earn its love. I choose respect.
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