Perspective: The Power Of The First Amendment

Jul 29, 2020

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.

That is the First Amendment to the US Constitution, ratified on December 15, 1791. I part company with many of my fellow liberals when it comes to freedom of speech.  In the past 20 years, in my view, it’s been the far left that has slowly chipped away at First Amendment rights and a free exchange of ideas, especially those with whom we may not agree.

College and university speech police routinely bow to student pressure to “bar” speakers from campus because of their views or past writings. Campuses have created “safe spaces” where opinions and words are banned so as not to damage young minds. Sadly, now some in higher education are considering speech policies that could expel students for voicing a “racist” opinion.

The First Amendment is not absolute—no one should yell “fire” in a crowded theater, of course. However, this most important of our Bill of Rights does allow me to learn from and challenge others on their opinions and beliefs, no matter how vile or loathsome society may find their comments or writings or speeches.

How do we combat hateful or incendiary speech? With more speech. With better speech.  With more effective arguments that make their case not because of the volume at which they are delivered but by the power of their meaning. 

When it comes to racism, I would argue that silencing people’s views only drives them underground. And, it’s there, out of sight, where those beliefs and practices can and will do the most damage.

I’m Wester Wuori and that’s my Perspective.