Laura Ingraham vowed on her show Monday night to fight “Stalinist forces” and “bullies on the left” who are attempting to “cut off” her “free speech.” Clearly, Laura Ingraham doesn’t understand the First Amendment and its guarantees of free speech, so this post will politely explain exactly what that means.
First, we must go straight to the source: the Constitution itself. Here’s what the First Amendment says.
“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.”
You’ll note that it says Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. It says nothing about the general public, your advertisers, or any other outside agency. Just Congress.
In other words, the First Amendment limits the government from restricting your free speech rights. That’s it. Just the government.
Courts have extended free speech protections beyond just Congress, of course, with mixed results. For example, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will almost certainly fight for the rights of a high school student (in a public school, anyway) whose article in a school newspaper was censored, for example. Similarly, the American Library Association will fight tooth-and-nail any attempts to ban books from public school libraries.
Things get murkier when it comes to private enterprise, however. For example, in some states, your employer can’t fire you for things you say when you’re off the clock, according to CNN, while in others, they can. And of course, the debate about whether or not a baker can be compelled to bake a cake for someone he disagrees with rages on.
Absent from all of this discussion, however, is how people react to what you say when you exercise your First Amendment rights. So, let’s open this part of the discussion with a pop quiz.
Which Of The Following Is A Case Of Someone’s First Amendment Rights Being Violated?
- Jane says on Facebook that she thinks Donald Trump is a poopyhead. Her friend, Jack, says “I disagree.”
- Fred stands on a street corner and preaches that all “homos” are going to burn in hell. Angry townsfolk shout back at him, drowning him out.
- Natalie, a musician, says on stage that she disagrees with her country going to war. People stop buying her albums and going to her concerts.
- Jeff posts on Facebook that he’s disappointed with how the county sheriff handled a local case. He spends six hours in jail on trumped-up charges before being released.
If you answered “4,” you are correct. That is the only scenario in which someone’s rights to free speech were violated by a government agency.
And that’s what Laura Ingraham fails to get: when it involves private enterprise — your viewers, your advertisers, your Twitter followers, and so on — the First Amendment simply doesn’t come into play. Insisting that your rights to free speech have been violated is, at best, a failure to understand the Constitution, and at worst, ignorant whining.
It goes both ways, for what it’s worth: you may recall that back in 2003, as the Huffington Post reports, country musicians The Dixie Chicks started a kerfuffle when singer Natalie Maines made remarks on-stage that were critical of then-president George W. Bush and the impending Iraq War. As country music fans across the world destroyed their CDs and engaged in other protest, some on the left were quick to complain that the women’s rights to free speech were being violated. They were not.
So, Ms. Ingraham, here’s my point: you may not like the fact that advertisers no longer want to be associated with you and your message of hate after you bullied a teenager whose friends were murdered. But that’s their choice, and the First Amendment doesn’t protect you from it.