In the 1989 Supreme Court case Texas v. Johnson, Justice William Brennan upheld one of America’s bedrock principles – freedom of speech – when he wrote government “may not prohibit expression simply because it disagrees with its message.” Brennan noted that the remedy for expression we don’t like is not to outlaw or suppress it, but “to persuade [others] that they are wrong.”
Interestingly, Justices Brennan and Antonin Scalia found themselves on the same side of this case, which speaks to the profoundly American ideal of absolute free speech that was once shared by originalists and living constitutionalists alike.
Liberal voices were once among the loudest defenders of free speech, but unfortunately today many on the Left espouse authoritarian crackdowns on speech they don’t like or they deem harmful. This is evidenced by Max Boot’s Washington Post column in which he wrote, “Just as we do with foreign terrorist groups, so with domestic terrorists: We need to shut down the influencers who radicalize people and set them on the path toward violence and sedition.”
To understand how dangerous Boot’s statement is, we must understand how he defines “domestic terrorists” and who gets to decide. Does he mean exclusively those who were involved with the incidents in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6? Does he mean all Americans who believe the 2020 election was conducted in improper ways? Does he mean all Americans who voted for Donald Trump?
After four years of the legacy media portraying all Trump supporters as radicals, we should understand that Boot is referring to Trump supporters writ large.
Boot goes on to suggest that “cable companies such as Comcast and Charter Spectrum, which carry Fox News and provide much of its revenue in the form of user fees, need to step in and kick Fox News off.”
CNN’s Oliver Darcy echoed similar sentiments, asking “Big Tech takes a lot of heat for distributing disinformation to millions. But what about TV carriers? Why do they escape scrutiny for beaming into millions of homes propagandists [sic] who recklessly use their platforms to spread lies and conspiracy theories?”
Media analysists are not the only ones making the case for expression limits. On Capitol Hill Wednesday, the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee’s will hold a hearing on “disinformation and extremism in the media.” The hearing will attempt to establish as fact that conservative news outlets intentionally spread disinformation, that Americans who consume conservative media have been propagandized, and a crackdown on conservative news outlets is necessary to protect the Republic.
The Biden administration is engaged as well. Former CIA Director John Brennan said administration officials are “moving in laser-like fashion to try to uncover as much as they can about what looks very similar to insurgency movements that we’ve seen overseas” that bring “together an unholy alliance, frequently, of religious extremists, authoritarians, fascists, bigots, racists, nativists — even libertarians.” Really? Even libertarians? Brennan’s perspective is something that is historically unprecedented in American political discourse, but not uncommon among members of today’s political left.
These kinds of sentiments are growing among the elites who compose much of the media and political establishment. That is why I’m calling on all Americans – inside government and out, in their professional and personal lives – to demonstrate civility in discourse, counter negative ideas with more positive speech and persuade others that they are wrong rather than seeking to silence them.
For all the recent rhetoric about a “return to normalcy,” perhaps we need to start with heeding Justice Brennan’s words and restoring the spirit of the First Amendment.
Lance Allen is a Republican candidate for Lt. Governor of Virginia in 2021 and 10-year Air Force veteran.