Freedom of speech. It’s a fundamental tenet of our Constitution, of course, clearly spelled out in the 1st Amendment.
It also seemed to be a key element in the defense of former president Trump, during his recent second impeachment trial.
It was his right, his lawyers argued, to say things like “And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
The soon-to-be ex-president didn’t literally mean “fight,” argued his lawyers, and thus he didn’t incite the Jan. 6 insurrection and assault on the U.S. Capitol.
He was simply exercising his right to free speech, they argued. And so he was. But the word “fight” seems superfluous to the actions of the mob on that dark winter’s day.
Instead perhaps the trigger words were spoken in the months prior to that day.
For months Mr. Trump had been undermining the efficacy of the election, calling it “a fraud,” “an embarrassment,” and “a steal,” among others things.
Even on Jan. 6 he continued to beat the drum for his claims of a crooked election, despite the fact the results had been certified in every state and the Electoral College had already cast its ballots.
During the course of his speech Mr. Trump threw out mounds of statistics claiming voter fraud, piling number upon number in a dizzying array of digits, seemingly ignoring the fact the votes in all the states had already been certified, rendering his piles of statistics moot.
So did he incite the mob that day? The Senate found him not guilty, of course, as it was clear it would.
He was only exercising his right to free speech, after all.
Of course the litmus test of free speech has always been you are allowed to say just about anything you choose, short of yelling fire in a crowded theater.
Everyone is entitled to exercise their right to free speech, of course, even those whose thinking falls far outside the mainstream.
Take newly elected Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, for example. In the past she has claimed school shootings such as those at Newtown, Conn., and Marjorie Stoneman Douglass High School in Florida were fake. She also questioned whether a plane flew into the Pentagon on 9/11, repeated the claim Barack Obama is a closet Muslim and asserted Bill and Hillary Clinton murdered John F. Kennedy Jr.
And yet she was elected. She exercised her freedom in espousing these theories, and the voters of her district exercised theirs by voting for her. The U.S. House voted to remove her from key committee assignments. For exercising her right to free speech.
Like Rep. Greene, free speech came back to bite Gina Carano on the backside. Carano, an actress on the wildly popular Disney+ series “The Mandalorian,” posted a piece on TikTok comparing the present political climate in this country to Nazi Germany.
“Because history is edited, most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views?” she wrote.
She was subsequently fired from the show, which, of course, is the right of “Lucasfilm,” her employer, but wasn’t she simply exercising her right to free speech?
I am neither defending Rep. Greene, nor Gina Carano. I agree with neither. But where does free speech end and hate speech begin? Is it simply in the eye of the listener?
The former president has been famously banned from Twitter and Facebook, because of his controversial and inflammatory posts and tweets. That, of course, is the right of these social media platforms. But where does this fall on the scale of free speech?
There is another important aspect of free speech and expression, of course. We are free to listen, to read, to hear, and then to make our own judgment.
These are sensitive times, emotions are raw on both sides of the political divide as the country struggles to get past the violence of Jan. 6.
Perhaps it is time to cool our rhetoric a bit, but if not, to always remember that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, whether it meshes with ours our not.
Mullin is an award-winning writer and columnist who retired in 2017 after 41 years with the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or write him in care of the Enid News & Eagle at PO Box 1192, Enid, OK, 73702.