A recent NYT article accidentally portrayed all the problems of free speech advocacy. I say accidentally because the intent of the article was clearly trying to protect the speech of only certain types of speech. “The First Amendment does not give protesters a ‘heckler’s veto,’” the Times quoted Jenny Martinez, Stanford’s law dean. A preposterous statement. The first amendment is a legal protection of speech. People in power who are scared of criticism are the only ones who seem able to use it as a defense of character.
Conservatives and Neo-Liberals absolutely love this position. No two groups are more willing to join hands in defense of the powerful. David French wrote of Stanford’s students, “It is entirely appropriate to ask any judge difficult questions during the question and answer session after a speech. But protests that go so far as to shout down or disrupt speeches or events aren’t free speech but rather mob censorship.” Which is wrong of course. Free speech absolutely gives an audience, a crowd, and even a protest the right to shout down and disrupt the speeches of others.
Let me say this for the people in the back, THERE IS NO FREEDOM TO BE HEARD. I feel better. Whether it’s Elon Musk thinking his tweets need a certain number of likes or retweets otherwise his rights are being trampled, or J.K Rowling believing she gets to speak ill of trans-persons and not be criticized, or Marjorie Taylor Greene believing she can actively lie to the American people without consequence; the public, the crowd, the mob doesn’t have to let you.
The NYT article was about a conservative judge being booed and heckled during a speech he gave at Stanford University. Big surprise, a person with immense power and decision making ability believes his voice is more important than that of his audience. I tend to side with Elie Mystal’s take on this, “Everybody has the right to speak; nobody has the right to be heard over the din of the crowd.” It is no surprise French would leave out the details of Judge Duncan insulting the audience, calling one attendee an “appalling idiot.” Why is it only the speech of the masses who must be silenced?
This is not a new theme, but it’s so very tiring. The constitution decidedly protects his bigotry. In fact, he is continuously rewarded for it. I’ve written before about the power of de-platforming. It is a tactic widely used by those in power. Elon Musk is quick to fire any employee who seeks to form a union, for example. There is no government entity trying to lock up Judge Duncan for being a bigot. He was given a legitimate platform to speak and it was students, not any authority, who decided they didn’t want to engage with someone they felt was harming their society and future.
The Freedom of Speech is under attack of course, but not from 18-23 year olds or Tesla employees. The Republican party is actively passing laws that will punish doctors for speaking honestly to their patients about how to get abortions as well as laws that will throw teachers in jail for explaining that race may have played a role in Rosa Parks choosing where to sit on a Montgomery bus. Journalists and Op-Ed blowhards continue to ask the tough questions of the every-person and coddle the powerful. The entitlement of the managerial class knows no bounds.