Why I Support Free Speech Absolutism (Even After Charlottesville)

Why I Support Free Speech Absolutism (Even After Charlottesville)

A defense of an unobstructed first amendment
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The previous semester, I had the good fortune to take a class on constitutional law, specifically the first amendment. In that class, I garnered the nickname ‘Justice Black’ after Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, a major figure in first amendment law. Justice Black achieved his immense stature in first amendment law by articulating the idea of free speech absolutism or the idea that there should be as few restraints as possible on the exercise of the first amendment. As I learned more within the class, I quickly saw the wisdom in absolutism and became its staunchest defender in the class.

Now the reasons I support and continue to believe in free speech absolutism are divided between the ideological abstract and inherently practical.

The banner of free speech has long been the bulwark to which advocates for social change and critics of the government have rallied. Forces of both good and ill have used it as a beacon to promote their cause and attract new members. They have also used it as a shield to protect themselves when their actions draw the ire of authorities. It’s the unevenness of this protection that has so captivated critics of the first amendment. It is indeed true the first amendment is not a perfect defense against tyranny. Its paper armor gives poor protection from police clubs and assassins bullets. Nor are its judicial foot soldiers the fiercest or most heroic of defenders. Far too often their help has come far too late for those fighting on the front lines for a cause.

But while these are tragic moments they do not detract from the power of the first amendment largely because it does not come from the arena of the streets, but in the court of public opinion. An excellent demonstration of this is the case of MLK and the civil rights movement. Civil rights protestors used the first amendment strategically as one of their primary methods of challenging segregation and resisting attempts at silencing them. Now, this did not spare them from the fire hoses and attack dogs that harassed them, or from the police forces and Klan gangs that intimidated them, nor did it stop the shot that ultimately killed MLK. But, when America tuned in to watch protestors peacefully marching being treated in such a callous and spiteful manner, the court of public opinion swiftly found for the protestors. In an era where protestors still come under intense assault for activism, these lessons serve as an important road map for success.

I will be among the first to admit that neo-Nazis and other white nationalists have nothing meaningful to really contribute to political life save one thing. They make an excellent canary in the coalmine as to the status of free speech and other civil liberties in society. On the surface it seems impossible that Nazis of all people could be the ones who preform this vital social function, but when one factor in their almost mystical ability to piss off virtually everyone it begins to make sense. Considering white supremacists constant tirades against minorities, our government, and virtually every aspect of civilization it’s a miracle that they are allowed to speak at all, indeed in many countries, they would be silenced, yet we allow them to speak anyway. We do this because the positive from allowing them to speak, allowing a reasonable person to make legitimate criticisms, far out weighs the negative of their worthless rhetoric.

In considering the merits of allowing some opinions to be voiced and others to be silenced, it's important to reflect on what a fear of criticism reveals about a movement. A group that is confident in itself and its ideals does not need to shy away from opponents; it trusts that it is right and that its arguments are strong enough to weather any storm of opposition. Nazis and other authoritarians stifle criticism because at their heart they are all fundamentally weak and they cannot have the truth of their unbearable weakness revealed to the world. The truth, of course, comes out anyway because there reaches a point when their weakness becomes so great that no amount of intimidating, torturing, or disappearing can hide it any longer. As satisfying as shutting up opponents is it is still the most immature form of social discourse. True moral and political strength comes from trusting that your side is right and that you will be vindicated by history.

If abstract theorizing is not your style in deciding on a course of political action then allow me to present a set of a more practical reason for supporting free speech absolutism.

On the practical side of things, it would do activists a great deal of benefit if they were to take pause and fully consider who would be in charge of censoring speech if they go their way. Currently, that burden would fall to one Donald J. Trump, a man who virtually every liberal in the country despises and fears. It would not be just Trump that would have this awesome power to silence people though, Jeff Sessions, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and the legion of other right wing leaders would have this immense power and they have not been shy in implying who they would use it on. It is a serious question to consider how long liberal groups such as BLM would last if the full power of government authority was let loose.

Finally, if none of the above reasons both abstract and practical are enough to convince you of the merits of free speech absolutism, then let me issue this last chilling response. My opponents argue that the threat Nazis pose to free society renders them beyond the protection of free speech but I ask you a question “Which is more dangerous a Nazi marching on the street or a Nazi in hiding?” A Nazi on the street is a terrible and disturbing thing, but it is visible, it is a known threat you can watch and gauge how strong they are while developing a course of action. A Nazi in hiding, on the other hand, is an unknown, you have no way of knowing how strong they are or what they are up to as they plot in basements and lurk on internet forums until it’s too late.

Nazis and their ilk are the ultimate tests of our civil liberties as they force us to confront the darkest parts of ourselves, but we shall always be stronger if we force those parts out in to the open and expose them for all their worth.

Cover Image Credit: Chet Strange

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This Is How Your Same-Sex Marriage Affects Me As A Catholic Woman

I hear you over there, Bible Bob.
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It won't.

Wait, what?

I promise you did read that right. Not what you were expecting me to say, right? Who another person decides to marry will never in any way affect my own marriage whatsoever. Unless they try to marry the person that I want to, then we might have a few problems.

As a kid, I was raised, baptized, and confirmed into an old school Irish Catholic church in the middle of a small, midwestern town.

Not exactly a place that most people would consider to be very liberal or open-minded. Despite this I was taught to love and accept others as a child, to not cast judgment because the only person fit to judge was God. I learned this from my Grandpa, a man whose love of others was only rivaled by his love of sweets and spoiling his grandkids.

While I learned this at an early age, not everyone else in my hometown — or even within my own church — seemed to get the memo. When same-sex marriage was finally legalized country-wide, I cried tears of joy for some of my closest friends who happen to be members of the LGBTQ community.

I was happy while others I knew were disgusted and even enraged.

"That's not what it says in the bible! Marriage is between a man and a woman!"

"God made Adam and Eve for a reason! Man shall not lie with another man as he would a woman!"

"Homosexuality is a sin! It's bad enough that they're all going to hell, now we're letting them marry?"

Alright, Bible Bob, we get it, you don't agree with same-sex relationships. Honestly, that's not the issue. One of our civil liberties as United States citizens is the freedom of religion. If you believe your religion doesn't support homosexuality that's OK.

What isn't OK is thinking that your religious beliefs should dictate others lives.

What isn't OK is using your religion or your beliefs to take away rights from those who chose to live their life differently than you.

Some members of my church are still convinced that their marriage now means less because people are free to marry whoever they want to. Honestly, I wish I was kidding. Tell me again, Brenda how exactly do Steve and Jason's marriage affect yours and Tom's?

It doesn't. Really, it doesn't affect you at all.

Unless Tom suddenly starts having an affair with Steve their marriage has zero effect on you. You never know Brenda, you and Jason might become best friends by the end of the divorce. (And in that case, Brenda and Tom both need to go to church considering the bible also teaches against adultery and divorce.)

I'll say it one more time for the people in the back: same-sex marriage does not affect you even if you or your religion does not support it. If you don't agree with same-sex marriage then do not marry someone of the same sex. Really, it's a simple concept.

It amazes me that I still actually have to discuss this with some people in 2017. And it amazes me that people use God as a reason to hinder the lives of others.

As a proud young Catholic woman, I wholeheartedly support the LGBTQ community with my entire being.

My God taught me to not hold hate so close to my heart. He told me not to judge and to accept others with open arms. My God taught me to love and I hope yours teaches you the same.

Disclaimer - This article in no way is meant to be an insult to the Bible or religion or the LGBTQ community.

Cover Image Credit: Sushiesque / Flickr

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Dear Senator Walsh, I Can't Wait For The Day That A Nurse Saves Your Life

And I hope you know that when it is your time, you will receive the best care. You will receive respect and a smile. You will receive empathy and compassion because that's what we do and that is why we are the most trusted profession.

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Dear Senator Walsh,

I can't even fathom how many letters you've read like this in the past 72 hours. You've insulted one of the largest, strongest and most emotion-filled professions.. you're bound to get a lot of feedback. And as nurses, we're taught that when something makes us mad, to let that anger fuel us to make a difference and that's what we're doing.

I am not even a nurse. I'm just a nursing student. I have been around and I've seen my fair share of sore legs and clinical days where you don't even use the bathroom, but I am still not even a nurse yet. Three years in, though, and I feel as if I've given my entire life and heart to this profession. My heart absolutely breaks for the men and women who are real nurses as they had to wake up the next morning after hearing your comments, put on their scrubs and prepare for a 12-hour day (during which I promise you, they didn't play one card game).

I have spent the last three years of my life surrounded by nurses. I'm around them more than I'm around my own family, seriously. I have watched nurses pass more medications than you probably know exist. They know the side effects, dosages and complications like the back of their hand. I have watched them weep at the bedside of dying patients and cry as they deliver new lives into this world. I have watched them hang IV's, give bed baths, and spoon-feed patients who can't do it themselves. I've watched them find mistakes of doctors and literally save patient's lives. I have watched them run, and teach, and smile, and hug and care... oh boy, have I seen the compassion that exudes from every nurse that I've encountered. I've watched them during their long shifts. I've seen them forfeit their own breaks and lunches. I've seen them break and wonder what it's all for... but I've also seen them around their patients and remember why they do what they do. You know what I've never once seen them do? Play cards.

The best thing about our profession, Senator, is that we are forgiving. The internet might be blown up with pictures mocking your comments, but at the end of the day, we still would treat you with the same respect that we would give to anyone. That's what makes our profession so amazing. We would drop anything, for anyone, anytime, no matter what.

You did insult us. It does hurt to hear those comments because from the first day of nursing school we are reminded how the world has zero idea what we do every day. We get insulted and disrespected and little recognition for everything we do sometimes. But you know what? We still do it.

When it's your time, Senator, I promise that the nurse taking care of you will remember your comments. They'll remember the way they felt the day you publicly said that nurses "probably do get breaks. They probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day." The jokes will stop and it'll eventually die down, but we will still remember.

And I hope you know that when it is your time, you will receive the best care. You will receive respect and a smile. You will receive empathy and compassion because that's what we do and that is why we are the most trusted profession.

Please just remember that we cannot properly take care of people if we aren't even taken care of ourselves.

I sincerely pray that someday you learn all that nurses do and please know that during our breaks, we are chugging coffee, eating some sort of lunch, and re-tying our shoes... not playing cards.

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