After Jersey City, NJ police officer Melvin Santiago was brutally shot and killed in the line of duty, his killer was himself shot and killed by fellow police officers. Shockingly, amidst a sea of grief and anger in the city, a memorial to the killer, Lawrence Campbell, was erected on a Jersey City sidewalk.
Public outrage followed, and an irate Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop ordered the memorial taken down, citing “public safety” concerns. The New Jersey Star-Ledger, while sympathizing with Fulop, called the Mayor’s action an infringement on First Amendment free speech rights:
No doubt most people in Jersey City will side with Fulop on removing the memorial. The line between a good guy and a bad guy is rarely so bright as the one separating Santiago from Campbell.
But removing the memorial is not the right response. The government has no business making itself the referee of the public dialogue, no matter how hideous the content.
Ask yourself this: Once the government starts regulating speech, where does it stop? Should memorials to any violent criminal be taken down? How about corrupt politicians? Or maybe even Muslims who worship at the wrong mosque?
You can begin to understand why the Founders drafted the First Amendment. And why we should honor it, even when it hurts.
In light of the Star-Ledger’s long-standing support for campaign spending limits, I left these comments here and here:
“The government has no business making itself the referee of the public dialogue, no matter how hideous the content.”
This is so true. A much bigger threat to the “public dialogue”—free speech—comes from Senate Democrats’ proposal, supported by Obama, to alter the First Amendment to allow Congress to control political speech by controlling political spending.
Money is property, and property is one’s means of implementing one’s values. Without property rights, no other rights are practicable. Try exercising your speech in the public square without spending money. The Federalist Papers would not have been possible without spending money. This editorial and related comments would not be possible without spending money.
If politicians ever got the constitutional power to control private citizens’ ability to spend their own money on their own speech, we will have tipped over into full tyranny. Politicians will be in the position to criminalize and silence their own critics, the very hallmark of statist systems like communism, theocracy, and fascism. And it will be the most effective voices—those groups and individuals in the best financial position to spread ideas, “be heard,” and foster public dialogue and debate—who will be the ones silenced. And to the extent these individuals and groups are prevented from advocating ideas other citizens agree with, to that extent will all of our free speech rights be abridged.
Politicians work for “the people,” not the other way around. Politicians should never be given the power to insulate themselves from their own constituents. “The government has no business making itself the referee of the public dialogue, no matter how hideous, [in their minds], the content.” Nor should they be allowed to restrict it.
Harry Reid justified the amendment as follows:
"Amending our Constitution is not something any of us should take lightly, but the flood of special interest money in our American democracy is one of the glaring threats our system of government has ever faced," Reid said on the Senate floor. "Let's keep our elections from becoming speculative ventures for the wealthy."
Remember, Reid is talking about private American citizens spending their own money on their own speech, but who otherwise have no power to force their values on anyone. Compare them to politicians, who literally have the power of the gun; i.e., law-making power to force us to do, or refrain from doing, that which is prescribed or proscribed by the laws they pass. Considering the extent to which our government today tramples our rights under the regulatory welfare state, Reid’s ridiculous smearing of “the wealthy” as “one of the glaring threats our system of government has ever faced” is outrageous.
HuffPost reporter Paul Blumenthal wrote in April:
The amendment would roll back the 2010 Citizens United and 2014 McCutcheon rulings by re-instituting the power of Congress to pass legislation limiting campaign contributions and expenditures.
But Congress never had the power to limit expenditures, regardless of recent court decisions. The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech. . .” No where does the constitution authorize such power. And remember, our government is one of enumerated powers. The fact that the constitution doesn’t authorize Congress to abridge free speech is our only chance to fight back against Congressional abridgment. It’s one thing to fight a law. It’s quite another to fight the constitution, which is why we’ve had a string of SCOTUS victories restoring free speech. If the constitution is amended granting Congress an enumerated power to abridge free speech at the politicians’ whims, free speech is over.
Are Media Corporations Next?