Posts Tagged ‘first amendment’

TRI Banner

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a move that could lead to a dangerous expansion of the “government speech” doctrine in order to limit any speech that occurs on government property, the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review a federal appeals court ruling that places highway rest areas off limits for First Amendment activities. In refusing to hear the case of Vista-Graphics v. Virginia Dept. of Transportation, the Supreme Court let stand a decision allowing the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to restrict the content of privately authored, illustrated, printed and funded travel guides distributed at highway rest areas and welcome centers. The Rutherford Institute filed an amicus curiae brief in the case, warning that First Amendment activities in public places would be endangered if the government were allowed to expand its “government speech” doctrine under the guise of regulating the content of travel guides.

“Virginia’s attempt to restrict First Amendment protected expression, including speech that is political and religious in nature, under the guise of the government speech doctrine represents a dangerous expansion of that doctrine that threatens any private speech occurring in public places,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People.  “Not all speech occurring in or around government land, offices, or employees can be and should be considered government speech. Virginia may claim to be for lovers, but it is clearly not for free speech.”

Virginia operates 41 rest areas and welcome centers along the interstate and U.S. highways traversing the state, offering the traveling public services and information about Virginia attractions. Vista-Graphics is a publisher of travel guides, including the Virginia Beach Visitors Guide, GoWilliamsburg Visitors Guide, and Virginia Guide, which provide a variety of information to tourists, including maps, area overviews, listing of lodging options, restaurants, attractions and other services. Until 2012, Vista-Graphics and other businesses and localities distributed travel guides and other information free of charge at welcome centers and rest areas operated by VDOT in accordance with a state regulation recognizing that distribution of these materials is protected by the First Amendment. That year, however, VDOT adopted a program that began charging publishers such as Vista-Graphics a fee in order to distribute travel guides and other information at welcome centers and rest areas. Thereafter, VDOT adopted regulations that prohibited the distribution at these areas of materials that could be considered political or religious, or that would rate travel attractions, events or accommodations.

Vista-Graphics challenged the constitutionality of the fees and regulations in court, asserting they violated the First Amendment. However, the lower courts ruled that the regulations and fees were not subject to challenge because information distributed at welcome centers and rest areas constitutes speech by the government, not individuals, and Virginia could control that speech as it sees fit. In asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, The Rutherford Institute pointed out that travel guides have historically been considered private speech, and the guides at issue in this case are paid for, printed and distributed by private entities like Vista-Graphics.

DOCUMENTS

The Rutherford Institute’s brief in Vista-Graphics v. Va. Dept. of Transportation

CASE HISTORY

August 31, 2017 • Rutherford Institute Challenges Expansion of ‘Government Speech’ Doctrine, Disputes Claim That First Amendment Doesn’t Apply to Highway Rest Areas

 

Advertisements

“If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.”— Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes

There was a time in this country, back when the British were running things, that if you spoke your mind and it ticked off the wrong people, you’d soon find yourself in jail for offending the king.

Reacting to this injustice, when it was time to write the Constitution, America’s founders argued for a Bill of Rights, of which the First Amendment protects the right to free speech. James Madison, the father of the Constitution, was very clear about the fact that he wrote the First Amendment to protect the minority against the majority.

What Madison meant by minority is “offensive speech.”

Unfortunately, we don’t honor that principle as much as we should today. In fact, we seem to be witnessing a politically correct philosophy at play, one shared by both the extreme left and the extreme right, which aims to stifle all expression that doesn’t fit within their parameters of what they consider to be “acceptable” speech.

There are all kinds of labels put on such speech—it’s been called politically incorrect speech, hate speech, offensive speech, and so on—but really, the message being conveyed is that you don’t have a right to express yourself if certain people or groups don’t like or agree with what you are saying.

Hence, we have seen the caging of free speech in recent years, through the use of so-called “free speech zones” on college campuses and at political events, the requirement of speech permits in parks and community gatherings, and the policing of online forums.

Clearly, this elitist, monolithic mindset is at odds with everything America is supposed to stand for.

Indeed, we should be encouraging people to debate issues and air their views. Instead, by muzzling free speech, we are contributing to a growing underclass of Americans—many of whom have been labeled racists, rednecks and religious bigots—who are being told that they can’t take part in American public life unless they “fit in.”

Remember, the First Amendment acts as a steam valve. It allows people to speak their minds, air their grievances and contribute to a larger dialogue that hopefully results in a more just world. When there is no steam valve to release the pressure, frustration builds, anger grows and people become more volatile and desperate to force a conversation.

The attempt to stifle certain forms of speech is where we go wrong.

In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that it is “a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment…that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable.” For example, it is not a question of whether the Confederate flag represents racism but whether banning it leads to even greater problems, namely, the loss of freedom in general.

Along with the constitutional right to peacefully (and that means non-violently) assemble, the right to free speech allows us to challenge the government through protests and demonstrations and to attempt to change the world around us—for the better or the worse—through protests and counterprotests.

As always, knowledge is key.

The following Constitutional Q&A, available in more detail at The Rutherford Institute (www.rutherford.org), is a good starting point.

Q:        WHAT LAWS GIVE ME THE RIGHT TO PROTEST?

A:         The First Amendment prohibits the government from “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.” Protesting is an exercise of these constitutional rights because it involves speaking out, by individual people or those assembled in groups, about matters of public interest and concern.

Q:        WHERE CAN I ENGAGE IN PROTEST ACTIVITY?

A:         The right to protest generally extends to places that are owned and controlled by the government, although not all government-owned property is available for exercising speech and assembly rights. However, beyond public or government property, a person cannot claim a First Amendment right to protest and demonstrate on property that is privately owned by someone else. This also applies to private property that is generally open to the public, such as a shopping mall or shopping center, although these areas sometimes allow demonstrations and other free speech activity with permission from the owner. You are also entitled to engage in protest activities on land you own.  The Supreme Court has ruled that the government may not forbid homeowners from posting signs on their property speaking out on a political or social issue.

Q:        WHAT ARE MY RIGHTS TO PROTEST IN A TRADITIONAL PUBLIC FORUM?

A:         Places historically associated with the free exercise of expressive activities, such as streets, sidewalks and parks, are traditional public forums and the government’s power to limit speech and assembly in those places is very limited. The government may not impose an absolute ban on expression and assembly in traditional public forums except in circumstances where it is essential to serve a compelling government interest.  However, expression and assembly in traditional public forums may be limited by reasonable time, place and manner regulations. Examples of reasonable regulations include restrictions on the volume of sound produced by the activity or a prohibition on impeding vehicle and pedestrian traffic.  To be a valid time, place and manner regulation, the restriction must not have the effect of restricting speech based on its content and it must not be broader than needed to serve the interest of the government.

Q:        CAN I PICKET AND/OR DISTRIBUTE LEAFLETS AND OTHER TYPES OF LITERATURE ON PUBLIC SIDEWALKS?

A:         Yes, a sidewalk is considered a traditional public forum where you can engage in expressive activities, such a passing out literature or speaking out on a matter of public concern. In exercising that right, you must not block pedestrians or the entrances to buildings. You may not physically or maliciously detain someone in order to give them a leaflet, but you may approach them and offer it to them.

Q:        CAN MY FREE SPEECH BE RESTRICTED BECAUSE OF WHAT I SAY, EVEN IF IT IS CONTROVERSIAL?

A:         No, the First Amendment protects speech even if most people would find it offensive, hurtful or hateful. Speech generally cannot be banned based upon its content or viewpoint because it is not up to the government to determine what can and cannot be said. A bedrock principle of the First Amendment is that the government may not prohibit expression of an idea because society finds it offensive or disagreeable. Also, protest speech also cannot be banned because of a fear that others may react violently to the speech.  Demonstrators cannot be punished or forbidden from speaking because they might offend a hostile mob. The Supreme Court has held that a “heckler’s veto” has no place in First Amendment law.

Q:        HOW DO THESE RIGHTS APPLY TO PUBLIC PLACES I TYPICALLY VISIT?

A:         Your rights to speak out and protest in particular public places will depend on the use and purpose of the place involved.  For example, the lobbies and offices of public buildings that are used by the government are generally not open for expressive activities because the purpose of these buildings is to carry out public business. Protesting would interfere with that purpose.  Ironically, the meetings of a governmental body, such as a city council or town board, are not considered public forums open for protest activities because the purpose of the meeting is generally to address public business that is on the agenda.  However, some government councils and boards set aside a time at the meeting when the public can voice their complaints.

The grounds of public colleges and universities are generally considered available for assembly and protest by students and other members of the institution’s community.  However, those who are not students, faculty or staff of the institution may be denied access to the campus for speech and protest activities under rules issued by the school.

Public elementary and secondary school grounds also are not considered places where persons can engage in assembly and protest.  However, students at these schools do not lose their right to free speech when they enter the school. The First Amendment protects the right of students to engage in expressive acts of protest, such as wearing armbands to demonstrate opposition to a war, that are not disruptive to the school environment.

Q:        DO I NEED A PERMIT IN ORDER TO CONDUCT A PROTEST?

A:         As a general rule, no. A person is not required to obtain the consent or permission of the government before engaging in activities that are protected by the First Amendment.  One of the main reasons for that constitutional provision was to forbid any requirement that citizens obtain a license in order to speak out.  The government cannot require that individuals or small groups obtain a permit in order to speak or protest in a public forum.

However, if persons or organizations want to hold larger rallies and demonstrations, they may be required by local laws to obtain a permit.  The Supreme Court has recognized that the government, in order to regulate competing uses of public forums, may impose a permit requirement on those wishing to hold a parade or rally.  Government officials cannot simply prohibit a public assembly according to their discretion, but the government can impose restrictions on the time, place, and manner of peaceful assembly, provided that constitutional safeguards are met. Such time, place and manner restrictions can take the form of requirements to obtain a permit for an assembly.

Whether an assembly or demonstration requires a permit depends on the laws of the locality.  A permit certainly is required for any parade because it would involve the use of the streets and interfere with vehicle traffic. A permit to hold an event in other public places typically is required if the gathering involves more than 50 persons or the use of amplification.

Q:        DO COUNTER-DEMONSTRATORS HAVE FREE SPEECH RIGHTS?

A:         Yes, they do. Just because counter-demonstrators oppose you and the viewpoint of your demonstration does not mean they have any less right to speak out and demonstrate. However, the same rules apply to counter-demonstrators as apply to the original assembly. The group cannot be violent and must assemble and protest in an appropriate place and manner.

Q:        WHAT CAN’T I DO IN EXERCISING MY RIGHTS TO PROTEST?

A:         The Supreme Court of the United States has held that the First Amendment protects the right to conduct a peaceful public assembly. The First Amendment does not provide the right to conduct a gathering at which there is a clear and present danger of riot, disorder, interference with traffic on public streets or other immediate threat to public safety. Laws that prohibit people from assembling and using force or violence to accomplish unlawful purposes are permissible under the First Amendment.

Q:       AM I ALLOWED TO CARRY A WEAPON OR FIREARM AT A DEMONSTRATION OR PROTEST?

A:         Your right to have a weapon with you when you protest largely depends on what is allowed by state law and is unlikely to be protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee to freedom of speech. Not all conduct can be considered “speech” protected by the First Amendment even if the person engaging in the conduct intends to express an idea. Most courts have held that the act of openly carrying a weapon or firearm is not expression protected by the First Amendment.

The right to possess a firearm is protected by the Second Amendment, and all states allow carrying a concealed weapon in public, although most require a permit to do so. Some states allow persons to openly carry firearms in public. However, it is not yet settled whether the Second Amendment guarantees the right to possess a firearm in public. Thus, the right to carry a firearm at a demonstration or protest is a matter that depends on what is allowed under state law. Carrying other weapons, such as stun guns, which are not firearms also is subject to restrictions imposed by state lawPossession of weapons also may be prohibited in certain places where demonstrations might take place, such as a national park.

Even if possession of weapons is allowed, their presence at demonstrations and rallies can be intimidating and provocative and does not help in achieving a civil and peaceful discourse on issues of public interest and concern. Demonstrations often relate to issues raising strong feelings among competing groups, and the presence of counter-demonstrators makes conflict likely.  In these situations, where the purpose of the gathering is to engage in speech activities, firearms and other weapons are threatening, result in the suppression of speech and are contrary to the purpose of the First Amendment to allow all voices to be heard on matters of public importance.

Q:        WHAT CAN’T THE POLICE DO IN RESPONDING TO PROTESTERS?

A:         In recent history, challenges to the right to protest have come in many forms. In some cases, police have cracked down on demonstrations by declaring them “unlawful assemblies” or through mass arrests, illegal use of force or curfews. Elsewhere, expression is limited by corralling protesters into so-called “free-speech zones.” New surveillance technologies are increasingly turned on innocent people, collecting information on their activities by virtue of their association with or proximity to a given protest. Even without active obstruction of the right to protest, police-inspired intimidation and fear can chill expressive activity and result in self-censorship. All of these things violate the First Amendment and are things the police cannot do to censor free speech. Unless the assembly is violent or violence is clearly imminent, the police have limited authority under the law to shut down protesters.

Clearly, as evidenced by the recent tensions in Charlottesville, Va., we’re at a crossroads concerning the constitutional right to free speech.

As Benjamin Franklin warned, “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.”

It must be emphasized that it was for the sake of preserving individuality and independence that James Madison, the author of the Bill of Rights, fought for a First Amendment that protected the “minority” against the majority, ensuring that even in the face of overwhelming pressure, a minority of one—even one who espouses distasteful viewpoints—would still have the right to speak freely, pray freely, assemble freely, challenge the government freely, and broadcast his views in the press freely.

This freedom for those in the unpopular minority constitutes the ultimate tolerance in a free society. Conversely, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American Peoplewhen we fail to abide by Madison’s dictates about greater tolerance for all viewpoints, no matter how distasteful, the end result is always the same: an indoctrinated, infantilized citizenry that marches in lockstep with the governmental regime.

Some of this past century’s greatest dystopian literature shows what happens when the populace is transformed into mindless automatons. For instance, in George Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother does away with all undesirable and unnecessary words and meanings, even going so far as to routinely rewrite history and punish “thoughtcrimes.”

Where we stand now is at the juncture of OldSpeak (where words have meanings, and ideas can be dangerous) and Newspeak (where only that which is “safe” and “accepted” by the majority is permitted). The power elite has made their intentions clear: they will pursue and prosecute any and all words, thoughts and expressions that challenge their authority.

This is the final link in the police state chain.

If ever there were a time for us to stand up for the right to speak freely, even if it’s freedom for speech we hate, the time is now.

WC: 2655

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His book Battlefield America: The War on the American People (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at http://www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

PUBLICATION GUIDELINES / REPRINT PERMISSION

John W. Whitehead’s weekly commentaries are available for publication to newspapers and web publications at no charge. Please contact staff@rutherford.org to obtain reprint permission.

This commentary is available at: http://rutherford.org/publications_resources/john_whiteheads_commentary/freedom_for_the_speech_we_hate_the_legal_ins_and_outs_of_the_right_to_

 

“A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty.”—James Madison

America is a ticking time bomb.

All that remains to be seen is who—or what—will set fire to the fuse.

We are poised at what seems to be the pinnacle of a manufactured breakdown, with police shooting unarmed citizens, snipers shooting police, global and domestic violence rising, and a political showdown between two presidential candidates equally matched in unpopularity.

The preparations for the Republican and Democratic national conventions taking place in Cleveland and Philadelphia—augmented by a $50 million federal security grant for each city—provide a foretaste of how the government plans to deal with any individual or group that steps out of line: they will be censored, silenced, spied on, caged, intimidated, interrogated, investigated, recorded, tracked, labeled, held at gunpoint, detained, restrained, arrested, tried and found guilty.

For instance, anticipating civil unrest and mass demonstrations in connection with the Republican Party convention, Cleveland officials set up makeshift prisons, extra courtrooms to handle protesters, and shut down a local university in order to house 1,700 riot police and their weapons. The city’s courts are preparing to process up to 1,000 people a day. Additionally, the FBI has also been conducting “interviews” with activists in advance of the conventions to discourage them from engaging in protests.

Make no mistake, the government is ready for a civil uprising.

Indeed, the government has been preparing for this moment for years.

A 2008 Army War College report revealed that “widespread civil violence inside the United States would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security.” The 44-page report goes on to warn that potential causes for such civil unrest could include another terrorist attack, “unforeseen economic collapse, loss of functioning political and legal order, purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency, pervasive public health emergencies, and catastrophic natural and human disasters.”

Subsequent reports by the Department of Homeland Security to identify, monitor and label right-wing and left-wing activists and military veterans as extremists (a.k.a. terrorists) have manifested into full-fledged pre-crime surveillance programs. Almost a decade later, after locking down the nation and spending billions to fight terrorism, the DHS has concluded that the greater threat is not ISIS but domestic right-wing extremism.

Meanwhile, the government has been amassing an arsenal of military weapons for use domestically and equipping and training their “troops” for war. Even government agencies with largely administrative functions such as the Food and Drug Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Smithsonian have been acquiring body armor, riot helmets and shields, cannon launchers and police firearms and ammunition. In fact, there are now at least 120,000 armed federal agents carrying such weapons who possess the power to arrest.

Rounding out this profit-driven campaign to turn American citizens into enemy combatants (and America into a battlefield) is a technology sector that is colluding with the government to create a Big Brother that is all-knowing, all-seeing and inescapable. It’s not just the drones, fusion centers, license plate readers, stingray devices and the NSA that you have to worry about. You’re also being tracked by the black boxes in your cars, your cell phone, smart devices in your home, grocery loyalty cards, social media accounts, credit cards, streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, and e-book reader accounts.

All of this has taken place right under our noses, funded with our taxpayer dollars and carried out in broad daylight without so much as a general outcry from the citizenry.

It’s astounding how convenient we’ve made it for the government to lock down the nation.

We’ve even allowed ourselves to be acclimated to the occasional lockdown of government buildings, Jade Helm military drills in small towns so that special operations forces can get “realistic military training” in “hostile” territory, and  Live Active Shooter Drill training exercises, carried out at schools, in shopping malls, and on public transit, which can and do fool law enforcement officials, students, teachers and bystanders into thinking it’s a real crisis.

The events of recent years—the invasive surveillance, the extremism reports, the civil unrest, the protests, the shootings, the bombings, the military exercises and active shooter drills, the color-coded alerts and threat assessments, the fusion centers, the transformation of local police into extensions of the military, the distribution of military equipment and weapons to local police forces, the government databases containing the names of dissidents and potential troublemakers—have all conjoined to create an environment in which “we the people” are more distrustful and fearful of each other and more reliant on the government to keep us safe.

Of course, that’s the point.

The powers-that-be want us to feel vulnerable.

They want us to fear each other and trust the government’s hired gunmen to keep us safe from terrorists, extremists, jihadists, psychopaths, etc.

Most of all, the powers-that-be want us to feel powerless to protect ourselves and reliant on and grateful for the dubious protection provided by the American police state.

Their strategy is working.

The tree of liberty is dying.

There will be no second American Revolution.

There is no place in our nation for the kind of armed revolution our forefathers mounted against a tyrannical Great Britain. Such an act would be futile and tragic. We are no longer dealing with a distant, imperial king but with a tyrant of our own making: a militarized, technologized, heavily-financed bureaucratic machine that operates beyond the reach of the law.

The message being sent to the citizenry is clear: there will be no revolution, armed or otherwise.

Anyone who believes that they can wage—and win—an armed revolt against the American police state has not been paying attention. Those who wage violence against the government and their fellow citizens are playing right into the government’s hands. Violence cannot and will not be the answer to what ails America.

Whether instigated by the government or the citizenry, violence will only lead to more violence. It does not matter how much firepower you have. The government has more firepower.

It does not matter how long you think you can hold out by relying on survivalist skills, guerilla tactics and sheer grit. The government has the resources to outwait, out-starve, outman, outgun and generally overpower you.

This government of wolves will not be overtaken by force.

Unfortunately, we waited too long to wake up to the government’s schemes.

We did not anticipate that “we the people” would become the enemy. For years, the government has been warning against the dangers of domestic terrorism, erecting surveillance systems to monitor its own citizens, creating classification systems to label any viewpoints that challenge the status quo as extremist, and training law enforcement agencies to equate anyone possessing anti-government views as a domestic terrorist.

What the government failed to explain was that the domestic terrorists would be of the government’s own making, whether intentional or not.

By waging endless wars abroad, by bringing the instruments of war home, by transforming police into extensions of the military, by turning a free society into a suspect society, by treating American citizens like enemy combatants, by discouraging and criminalizing a free exchange of ideas, by making violence its calling card through SWAT team raids and militarized police, by fomenting division and strife among the citizenry, by acclimating the citizenry to the sights and sounds of war, and by generally making peaceful revolution all but impossible, the government has engineered an environment in which domestic violence has become inevitable.

What we are now experiencing is a civil war, devised and instigated in part by the U.S. government.

The outcome for this particular conflict is already foregone: the police state wins.

The objective: compliance and control.

The strategy: destabilize the economy through endless wars, escalate racial tensions, polarize the populace, heighten tensions through a show of force, intensify the use of violence, and then, when all hell breaks loose, clamp down on the nation for the good of the people and the security of the nation.

So where does that leave us?

Despite the fact that communities across the country are, for all intents and purposes, being held hostage by a government that is armed to the teeth and more than willing to use force in order to “maintain order,” most Americans seem relatively unconcerned. Worse, we have become so fragmented as a nation, so hostile to those with whom we might disagree, so distrustful of those who are different from us, that we are easily divided and conquered.

We have been desensitized to violence, acclimated to a military presence in our communities and persuaded that there is nothing we can do to alter the seemingly hopeless trajectory of the nation. In this way, the floundering economy, the blowback arising from military occupations abroad, police shootings, the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure and all of the other mounting concerns have become non-issues to a populace that is easily entertained, distracted, manipulated and controlled.

The sight of police clad in body armor and gas masks, wielding semiautomatic rifles and escorting an armored vehicle through a crowded street, a scene likened to “a military patrol through a hostile city,” no longer causes alarm among the general populace.

We are fast becoming an anemic, weak, pathetically diluted offspring of our revolutionary forebears incapable of mounting a national uprising against a tyrannical regime.

Battlefield_Cover_300If there is to be any hope of reclaiming our government and restoring our freedoms, it will require a different kind of coup: nonviolent, strategic and grassroots, starting locally and trickling upwards. Such revolutions are slow and painstaking. They are political, in part, but not through any established parties or politicians.

Most of all, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, for any chance of success, such a revolution will require more than a change of politics: it will require a change of heart among the American people, a reawakening of the American spirit, and a citizenry that cares more about their freedoms than their fantasy games.

“What are the defenders of free speech to do? The sad fact is that this fundamental freedom is on its heels across America. Politicians of both parties want to use the power of government to silence their foes. Some in the university community seek to drive it from their campuses. And an entire generation of Americans is being taught that free speech should be curtailed as soon as it makes someone else feel uncomfortable. On the current trajectory, our nation’s dynamic marketplace of ideas will soon be replaced by either disengaged intellectual silos or even a stagnant ideological conformity. Few things would be so disastrous for our nation and the well-being of our citizenry.”—William Ruger, “Free Speech Is Central to Our Dignity as Humans

As a nation, we have a tendency to sentimentalize cultural icons in death in a way that renders them non-threatening, antiseptic and easily digested by a society with an acute intolerance for anything controversial, politically incorrect or marred by imperfection.

This revisionist history—a silent censorship of sorts—has proven to be a far more effective means of neutralizing radicals such as Martin Luther King Jr. than anything the NSA, CIA or FBI could dream up.

In life, King called for Americans to rise up against a government that was not only treating blacks unfairly but was also killing innocent civilians, impoverishing millions, and prioritizing the profits of war over human rights and dignity. This was a man who went to jail over racial segregation laws, encouraged young children to face down police dogs and water hoses, and who urged people to turn their anger loose on the government through civil disobedience. King actually insisted that people have a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.

In death, however, King has been reduced to a face on a national monument and a national holiday, neither of which even hint at the true nature of the man: fiery, passionate, single-minded in his pursuit of justice, unwilling to remain silent in the face of wrongdoing, and unafraid of offending those who might disagree with him.

A contemporary of King’s, heavy-weight championship boxer Muhammad Ali followed a different path as a social activist and “breaker of boundaries.” Like King, Ali didn’t pull any punches when it came to saying what he believed and acting on it. Yet already, in the wake of Ali’s passing, we’re being treated to a sentimentalized version of the heavy-weight boxer.

In life, Ali was fast-talking, fast-moving and as politically incorrect as they come. He became an early convert to the Nation of Islam, a black separatist religious movement whose membership at one time included Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan. He denounced his “slave name” (Cassius Marcellus Clay) and refused to be the “white man’s Negro.”

He was stripped of his boxing title, arrested and threatened with five years in prison and a fine of $10,000 after refusing to be drafted into the Army as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. “My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America,” declared Ali. “And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. … Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”

As First Amendment scholar David L. Hudson Jr. notes, “Ali’s remarkable career and life placed him at the vortex of these First Amendment freedoms… Ali freely exercised his religious faith. He regularly spoke provocatively on a variety of topics. The press was abuzz with coverage and criticism. Thousands assembled in support of him, and the champion himself took part in rallies, parades and marches. Some petitioned the government to redress the injustice of his conviction for refusing military service, which resulted in his being exiled from the boxing ring for his beliefs.”

It took a legal battle all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court for Ali’s religious objections to serving in the Army to be given credence and his First Amendment arguments to prevail. The case was Clay v. United States.

That was in 1971.

Forty-five years later, Ali is dead, fear is alive, and free speech is being dealt one knock-out punch after another.

Indeed, talk-show celebrity Piers Morgan has been soundly trounced and roundly censured for daring to suggest that Ali—a champion of the First Amendment who liberally peppered his speech with words (nigger and Uncle Tom) and opinions (“the white man is the Devil“ and “I’m sure no intelligent white person watching this show … want black boys and black girls marrying their white sons and daughters“) that would horrify most of his politically correct fans—made more “inflammatory/racist” comments than Donald Trump.

Speaking of Trump, in Fresno, California, a third-grader was ordered to remove his pro-Trump “Make America Great Again” hat because school officials feared for his safety. The 9-year-old boy refused, citing the First Amendment.

That was the same argument—a concern for safety—officials used in 2010 when they ordered several high school students to remove their t-shirts emblazoned with the American flag. The concern: wearing the flag on Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican day of celebration, might offend Hispanic students attending the school. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the school’s logic. Coincidentally, that same week, the high court also ruled against Confederate flag license plates on the grounds that they constituted government speech and might be offensive to African-Americans.

For those of us who came of age in the 1960s, college campuses were once the bastion of free speech, awash with student protests, sit-ins, marches, pamphleteering, and other expressive acts showing our displeasure with war, the Establishment and the status quo.

Today, on college campuses across the nation, merely chalking the word “Trump” on the sidewalk is enough to have student groups crying foul and labeling it as hate speech in need of censorship. Under the misleading guise of tolerance, civility, love and political correctness, college campuses have become hotbeds of student-led censorship, trigger warningsmicroaggressions, and “red light” speech policies targeting anything that might cause someone to feel uncomfortable, unsafe or offended.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this doesn’t even begin to touch on the criminalization and surveillance of various forms of speech that the government deems to be hateful, anti-government, extremist, bullying, dangerous or inflammatory.

One could say that we have allowed our fears—fear for our safety, fear of each other, fear of being labeled racist or hateful or prejudiced, etc.—to trump our freedom of speech and muzzle us far more effectively than any government edict could.

Ultimately the war on free speech—and that’s exactly what it is: a war being waged by Americans against other Americans—is a war that is driven by fear.

America is in the midst of an epidemic of historic proportions. The contagion being spread like wildfire is turning communities into battlegrounds and setting Americans one against the other. Normally mild-mannered individuals caught up in the throes of this disease have been transformed into belligerent zealots, while others inclined to pacifism have taken to stockpiling weapons and practicing defensive drills.

This plague on our nation—one that has been carefully cultivated and spread by the powers-that-be—is a potent mix of fear coupled with unhealthy doses of paranoia and intolerance, tragic hallmarks of the post-9/11 America in which we live.

Everywhere you turn, those on both the left- and right-wing are fomenting distrust and division. You can’t escape it. We’re being fed a constant diet of fear: fear of terrorists, fear of illegal immigrants, fear of people who are too religious, fear of people who are not religious enough, fear of the government, fear of those who fear the government. The list goes on and on.

The strategy is simple yet brilliant: the best way to control a populace is through fear and discord. Confound them, distract them with mindless news chatter and entertainment, pit them against one another by turning minor disagreements into major skirmishes, and tie them up in knots over matters lacking in national significance. Most importantly, keep the people divided so that they see each other as the enemy and screaming at each other so that they drown out all other sounds. In this way, they will never reach consensus about anything or hear the corporate state as it closes in on them.

This is how a freedom-loving people enslave themselves and allow tyrants to prevail.

This Machiavellian scheme has so ensnared the nation that few Americans even realize they are being manipulated into adopting an “us” against “them” mindset. Instead, fueled with fear and loathing for phantom opponents, they pour millions of dollars and resources into political elections, hoping for change that never comes. All the while, those in power—bought and paid for by lobbyists and corporations—move their costly agendas forward, and “we the suckers” get saddled with the tax bills.

We have been down this road before.

A classic example is the fear and paranoia that gripped the country during the 1950s. Many huddled inside their homes and fallout shelters, awaiting a nuclear war. It was also the time of the Red Scare. The enemy this time was Communist infiltration of American society.

Joseph McCarthy, a young Republican senator, grasped the opportunity to capitalize on the popular paranoia for personal national attention. In a speech in February 1950, McCarthy alleged having a list of over 200 members of the Communist Party “working and shaping the policy of the U.S. State Department.” The speech was picked up by the Associated Press, without substantiating the facts, and within a few days the hysteria began.

McCarthy specialized in sensational and unsubstantiated accusations about Communist infiltration of the American government, particularly the State Department. He also targeted well-known Hollywood actors and directors, trade unionists and teachers. Many others were brought before the inquisitional House Committee on Un-American Activities for questioning. Regarded as bad risks, the accused struggled to secure employment. The witch hunt ruined careers, resulting in suicides, and tightened immigration to exclude alleged subversives.

“McCarthyism” eventually smeared all the accused with the same broad brush, whether the evidence was good, bad or nonexistent. McCarthy, like many do today, appealed to the low instincts of envy, paranoia and dislike for the intellectual establishment.

“The real scoundrel in all this,” writes historian David Halberstam, “was the behavior of the members of the Washington press corps, who, more often than not, knew better. They were delighted to be a part of his traveling road show, chronicling each charge and then moving on to the next town, instead of bothering to stay behind and follow up. They had little interest in reporting how careless McCarthy was or how little it all meant to him.”

However, on March 9, 1954, Edward R. Murrow, the most-respected newsman on television at the time, broke the ice. He attacked McCarthy on his weekly show, See It Now. Murrow interspersed his own comments and clarifications into a damaging series of film clips from McCarthy’s speeches. Murrow ended the broadcast with one of the greatest news commentaries of all time, also a warning.

We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine; and remember that we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were for the moment unpopular.

This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home. The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it—and rather successfully. Cassius was right. ”The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” 

Support the work of The Rutherford Institute with a tax-deductible donation today.

Support the work of The Rutherford Institute with a tax-deductible donation today.

Whether you’re talking about free speech, surveillance, police misconduct or some other symptom of a government that has grown drunk on its own power, the answer is always the same: “we the people.”

We need to reject fear as our guiding principle, and restore freedom to its rightful place at the center of our republic.

As William Ruger writes in a powerful editorial for Time:

We must vigorously re-make the case for free speech. We must recur to its great defenders from ages past and reintroduce their ideas to our fellow Americans. The wisdom of John Milton, John Locke and John Stuart Mill—not to mention that of Americans like George Mason and Justice Louis Brandeis—is as true today as it was in their times. We just have to remember it… we must transmit an understanding of the value of free speech to today’s Americans in order to ensure that it is protected for future generations. And perhaps even more importantly, we need to demonstrate a vigorous commitment to free speech. America’s success depends on whether we continue to embrace this fundamental freedom.

RICHMOND, Va. — A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit filed by The Rutherford Institute on behalf of a man who was arrested as he was engaged in a First Amendment protest against President Obama while lawfully carrying a rifle. The settlement in Brandon Howard v. John Hunter resolved the lawsuit to the mutual satisfaction of the parties, which included claims that the police violated Howard’s First Amendment right to free speech, Second Amendment right to bear arms, and Fourth Amendment right to be free from a groundless arrest when they confronted him with guns drawn and ordered him to the ground on the unfounded belief that Howard was violating the law by being in public with a rifle slung over his shoulder. Soon after the incident, the City of Hopewell Police Department admitted in writing that the incident involved a violation of department policy. The settlement included an apology by the defendant police officer acknowledging respect for citizens’ First and Second Amendment rights and stating “[it] was not my intention to compromise Mr. Howard’s rights under the Constitution.”

The Rutherford Institute’s complaint in Brandon Howard v. John Hunter is available at www.rutherford.org.

Battlefield_Cover_300“As this case shows, if you feel like you can’t walk away from a police encounter of your own volition—and more often than not you can’t, especially when you’re being confronted by someone armed to the hilt with all manner of militarized weaponry and gear—then for all intents and purposes, you’re under arrest from the moment a cop stops you,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Certainly, if you’ve been placed in handcuffs and transported to a police station against your will, that constitutes an arrest.”

According to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, on Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, Brandon Howard arrived at an overpass above Interstate 295 in the City of Hopewell, Va., and displayed a 6 foot by 4 foot sign that read “Impeach Obama.” Howard was carrying a DMTS Panther Arms AR-15 rifle slung over his shoulder on a strap, and a .380 caliber Bersa Thunder sidearm pistol in a belted holster on his waist. Howard lawfully owned each firearm and did not point or brandish them at any time while engaged in his First Amendment protest activity on the overpass. Howard displayed his protest sign for 30 minutes, but Howard did not directly engage with anyone.

At about 5:30 p.m., a police officer pulled up to the area, remained in his car and observed Howard. Thereafter, three to five additional police cruisers arrived at the scene with emergency lights engaged. Approximately eight officers exited these vehicles with their guns drawn and ordered Howard to drop his sign and get on the ground with his hands spread above his head. Howard complied with the officers’ orders. Howard explained that he had not threatened anyone but was simply exercising his First and Second amendment rights. Howard was then handcuffed and transported to the police station, where he was left, handcuffed, in an interrogation room for 90 minutes, after which time he had his firearms returned and was released. A month later, the Deputy Chief of Police acknowledged in writing that an internal investigation had concluded that one of the officers violated department policy and would be disciplined and sent to remedial training. Attorney Raul Novo of Richmond, Va., assisted The Rutherford Institute with the lawsuit and settlement.

CASE HISTORY

March 11, 2016: VICTORY: Police Settle Rutherford Institute Lawsuit Over Activist Held at Gun, Handcuffed and Arrested for Lawfully Carrying a Rifle During a Protest

October 22, 2015: Victory: Court Gives Green Light to Lawsuit over Activist Held at Gun Point by Police, Handcuffed and Arrested for Lawfully Carrying a Rifle During a Protest

September 25, 2015: Virginia Police Insist That Activist Was Not Under Arrest Even Though He Was Held at Gun Point by Police, Handcuffed and Taken to the Police Station

November 17, 2014: Citing 1st, 2nd & 4th Amendments, Rutherford Institute Sues Virginia Police for Violating Obama Protester’s Right to Free Speech and Lawful Gun Ownership

cucart

“That’s the way the ruling class operates in any society. They keep the lower and the middle classes fighting with each other… Anything different—that’s what they’re gonna talk about—race, religion, ethnic and national background, jobs, income, education, social status, sexuality, anything they can do to keep us fighting with each other, so that they can keep going to the bank!”—Comedian George Carlin

“We the people” have been utterly and completely betrayed.

The politicians “we the people” most trusted to look out for our best interests, protect our rights, and ensure that the nation does not slip into tyranny have cheated on us, lied to us, swindled us, deceived us, double-crossed us, and sold us to the highest bidder.

Time and again, they have shown in word and deed that their priorities lay elsewhere, that they care nothing about our plight, that they owe us no allegiance, that they are motivated by power and money rather than principle, that they are deaf to our entreaties, that they are part of an elite ruling class that views us as mere cattle, that their partisan bickering is part of an elaborate ruse to keep us divided and distracted, and that their oaths of office to uphold the Constitution mean nothing.

Incredibly, even in the face of their treachery and lies, the great majority of Americans persist in believing that the politicians have the people’s best interests at heart.

Despite the fact that we’ve been burned before, most Americans continue to allow themselves to be bamboozled into casting their votes for one candidate or another, believing that this time they mean what they say, this time they really care about the citizenry, this time will be different.

Of course, they rarely ever mean what they say, they care about their constituents only to the extent that it advances their political careers, and it never turns out differently. We are as easily discarded the day after the elections as we were wantonly wooed in the months leading up to the big day. Those same politicians who were once so eager to pose for our pictures, smile at our jokes, and glad-hand us for our votes will, upon being elected, retreat behind a massive, impenetrable wall that ensures we are not seen or heard from again—at least, until the next election.

The joke is on us.

Battlefield_Cover_300As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, all of the caucuses, primaries, nominating conventions, town hall meetings, rallies, meet and greets, delegates and super-delegates are sophisticated schemes aimed at advancing the illusion of participation culminating in the reassurance ritual of voting.

It’s not about Red Republicans or Blue Democrats. It’s about Green Donors—i.e, those with money who can afford to pay for access.

Votes might elect politicians, but as a 2014 field experiment by political scientists at Yale University and the University of California, Berkeley, makes clear, it’s money that talks.

The experiment went something like this: members of Congress were contacted by constituents requesting meetings about pending public policy issues. As the Washington Post reports, “When the attendees were revealed to be ‘local campaign donors,’ they often gained access to Members of Congress, Legislative Directors, and Chiefs of Staff. But when the attendees were described as only ‘local constituents,’ they almost never gained this level of access.”

Conclusion: money buys access to politicians who are otherwise deaf, dumb and blind to the entreaties of their constituents.

It works the same with every politician and every party.

Indeed, the First Amendment’s assurance of a right to petition the government for a redress of grievances has become predicated on how much money you’re willing to shell out in order to gain access to your elected and appointed officials.

Then again, money has always played a starring role in American politics.

lincoln-bedroom-2007-seThe spoils system reared its greedy head under Andrew Jackson, who traded jobs in his administration in exchange for campaign contributions. For $1 million, donors could take part in Warren Harding’s poker parties and enjoy a sleepover at the White House. Lyndon Johnson had a President’s Club that cost donors $1000 a year. Nixon was prepared to sell ambassadorships for $250,000. And Bill Clinton famously allowed top-dollar donors to spend a night in the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House in exchange for roughly $5.4 million in donations to the Democratic National Committee.

Fast forward to the present day, and a $500,000 donation might get you invited to a quarterly meeting with Barack Obama. For a mere $5,000 donation, lobbyists are being given exclusive invitations to join Congressmen and senators for weekend getaways that include wine tastings, fly fishing, skiing, golfing, hunting, spas, seaside cocktail parties and more.

If you’re just a lowly citizen with limited cash, however, you’re out of luck.

Try contacting your so-called representatives without paying for the privilege, and see how far that gets you. I can assure you that you won’t be given the kinds of access that lobbyists, special interest groups and top donors enjoy.

Having been saddled with a pay-to-play system that provides access only to those with enough cash to grease the wheels of the political machine, average Americans have little to no say in the workings of their government and even less access to their so-called representatives.

trump-clinton-weddingDonald Trump, as he has boasted, might be able to buy and sell politicians of all stripes (including Hillary Clinton), but the average American would be hard-pressed to get the kind of access enjoyed by corporate executives, lobbyists and other members of the moneyed elite.

Indeed, members of Congress have to work hard to keep their constituents at a distanceminimizing town-hall meetings, making minimal public appearances while at home in their districts, only appearing at events in controlled settings where they’re the only ones talking, and if they must interact with constituents, doing so via telephone town meetings or impromptu visits to local businesses where the chances of being accosted by angry voters are greatly minimized.

And under the Trespass Bill, passed by Congress in 2012 and signed into law by President Obama, if you dare to exercise your First Amendment right to speak freely to a politician, assemble in public near a politician, or petition a government official for a redress of grievances, you risk a fine or a lengthy stay in prison.

Talk about self-serving.

Under the guise of protecting government officials from physical attacks, the Trespass Bill, a.k.a. “the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act,” criminalizes First Amendment activity by making it a federal offense, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, to protest anywhere the Secret Service might be guarding someone.

Mind you, the Secret Service not only protects the president but all past sitting presidents, members of Congress, foreign dignitaries, presidential candidates, and anyone whom the president determines needs protection, but is also in charge of securing National Special Security Events, which include events such as the G8 and NATO summits, the National Conventions of both major parties, and even the Super Bowl.

The law essentially creates a roving bubble zone where the First Amendment is effectively off-limits, thereby putting an end to free speech, political protest and the right to peaceably assemble in all areas where government officials happen to be present. Thus, simply walking by one of these events could make you subject to arrest.

31bc75e000000578-0-image-a-2_1456850087032“What that means in practice,” as The Intercept rightly points out, “is that campaign rallies for Donald Trump, who was granted Secret Service protection in November, and Hillary Clinton, who will be guarded for life as a former first lady, arethe very opposite of free speech zones under federal law. (The restrictions also apply to all appearances by former presidents and first ladies, as well as those of two other candidates, Bernie Sanders and Ben Carson, who are currently protected by the service.)”

Consider yourself warned: If you do dare to show up to a Trump or Clinton rally and even appear to be the kind of person who might engage in any kind of protest, lawful or otherwise, you could find yourself quickly dispatched to a “free speech zone” out of sight and sound of the candidates. (“Free speech zones” are government-sanctioned areas located far away from government officials, into which activists and citizens are herded at political rallies and events.) In fact, that’s exactly what happened to a group of black students at a recent Trump rally in Georgia. They were escorted by police to “‘free speech zones’ in a field shielded from the venue by a set of tennis courts, or outside a church about a quarter of a mile away.”

The message is clear: in an age of robber barons, “we the people” are expected to just shut up and vote.

The powers-that-be want us to be censored, silenced, muzzled, gagged, zoned out, caged in and shut down. They want our speech and activities monitored for any sign of “extremist” activity. They want us to be estranged from each other and kept at a distance from those who are supposed to represent us. They want taxation without representation. They want a government without the consent of the governed.

They want the police state.

free20speechThe system has been so corrupted and compromised that there are few left in the halls of government who hear or speak for us.

Congress does not represent us. The courts do not advocate for us. The president does not listen to us. And the First Amendment’s assurance of the right to speak freely and petition our government for a redress of grievance no longer applies to us.

So if representative government has become an exercise in futility, where does that leave us?

One of the key ingredients in maintaining democratic government is the right of citizens to freely speak their minds to those who represent them. In fact, it is one of the few effective tools we have left to combat government corruption and demand accountability.

If there is to be any hope of righting the wrongs that are being perpetrated against the American people, we must make them—our elected officials—hear us.

But where to begin?

Start by opening up a dialogue within your own community about what’s wrong with this country. Stop focusing on the issues that divide, and find common ground with your fellow citizens about issues on which you can agree. Focus less on politics and more on principles. Stop buying into the false and divisive narratives that are being promulgated by political windbags and start thinking and speaking for yourselves.

los_angeles_people-300x204Once you’ve found that common ground, whatever it might be, make enough noise at the local level—at your city council meetings, in your local paper, at your school board meetings, in front of your courthouses and police stations—and the message will trickle up. Those in power may not like what they hear, but they will hear you.

Remember, there is power in numbers.

There are 319 million of us in this country. Imagine what we could accomplish if we actually worked together, presented a united front, and spoke with one voice?

The police state wouldn’t stand a chance.

“If you can’t say ‘Fuck’ you can’t say, ‘Fuck the government.’” ― Lenny Bruce

Not only has free speech become a four-letter word—profane, obscene, uncouth, not to be uttered in so-called public places—but in more and more cases, the government deems free speech to be downright dangerous and in some instances illegal.

The U.S. government has become particularly intolerant of speech that challenges the government’s power, reveals the government’s corruption, exposes the government’s lies, and encourages the citizenry to push back against the government’s many injustices.

Indeed, there is a long and growing list of the kinds of speech that the government considers dangerous enough to red flag and subject to censorship, surveillance, investigation and prosecution: hate speech, bullying speech, intolerant speech, conspiratorial speech, treasonous speech, threatening speech, incendiary speech, inflammatory speech, radical speech, anti-government speech, right-wing speech, extremist speech, etc.

Yet by allowing the government to whittle away at cherished First Amendment freedoms—which form the backbone of the Bill of Rights—we have evolved into a society that would not only be abhorrent to the founders of this country but would be hostile to the words they used to birth this nation.

Don’t believe me?

Conduct your own experiment into the government’s tolerance of speech that challenges its authority, and see for yourself.

Stand on a street corner—or in a courtroom, at a city council meeting or on a university campus—and recite some of the rhetoric used by the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, John Adams and Thomas Paine without referencing them as the authors.

For that matter, just try reciting the Declaration of Independence, which rejects tyranny, establishes Americans as sovereign beings, recognizes God as a Supreme power, portrays the government as evil, and provides a detailed laundry list of abuses that are as relevant today as they were 240 years ago.

My guess is that you won’t last long before you get thrown out, shut up, threatened with arrest or at the very least accused of being a radical, a troublemaker, a sovereign citizen, a conspiratorialist or an extremist.

Try suggesting, as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin did, that Americans should not only take up arms but be prepared to shed blood in order to protect their liberties, and you might find yourself placed on a terrorist watch list and vulnerable to being rounded up by government agents.

“What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance. Let them take arms,” declared Jefferson. He also concluded that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Observed Franklin: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!”

Better yet, try suggesting as Thomas Paine, Marquis De Lafayette, John Adams and Patrick Henry did that Americans should, if necessary, defend themselves against the government if it violates their rights, and you will be labeled a domestic extremist.

“It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government,” insisted Paine. “When the government violates the people’s rights,” Lafayette warned, “insurrection is, for the people and for each portion of the people, the most sacred of the rights and the most indispensable of duties.” Adams cautioned, “A settled plan to deprive the people of all the benefits, blessings and ends of the contract, to subvert the fundamentals of the constitution, to deprive them of all share in making and executing laws, will justify a revolution.” And who could forget Patrick Henry with his ultimatum: “Give me liberty or give me death!”

Then again, perhaps you don’t need to test the limits of free speech for yourself. One such test is playing out before our very eyes in Portland, Oregon, where radio “shock jock” Pete Santilli, a new media journalist who broadcasts his news reports over YouTube and streaming internet radio, is sitting in jail.

Santilli, notorious for his controversial topics, vocal outrage over government abuses, and inflammatory rhetoric, is not what anyone would consider an objective reporter. His radio show, aptly titled “Telling You the Truth…Whether You Like It or Not,” makes it clear that Santilli has a viewpoint (namely, that the government has overstepped its bounds), and he has no qualms about sharing it with his listeners.

It was that viewpoint that landed Santilli in jail.

In early January 2016, a group of armed activists, reportedly protesting the federal government’s management of federal lands and its prosecution of two local ranchers convicted of arson, staged an act of civil disobedience by occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Oregon. Santilli, who has covered such protests in the past, including the April 2014 standoff in Nevada between the Bundy ranching family and the federal government over grazing rights, reported on the occupation in Burns as an embedded journalist, albeit one who was sympathetic to the complaints (although not the tactics) of the occupiers.

When asked to clarify his role in relation to the occupation, Santilli declared, “My role is the same here that it was at the Bundy ranch. To talk about the constitutional implications of what is going on here. The Constitution cannot be negotiated.”

Well, it turns out that the Constitution can be negotiated, at least when the government gets involved.

Long a thorn in the side of the FBI, Santilli was arrested by the FBI following its ambush and arrest of key leaders of the movement. He was charged, along with the armed resistors, with conspiracy to impede federal officers from discharging their duties by use of force, intimidation, or threats—the same charge being levied against those who occupied the refuge—which carries a maximum sentence of six years in prison.

Notably, Santilli is the only journalist among those covering the occupation to be charged with conspiracy, despite the fact that he did not participate in the takeover of the refuge, nor did he ever spend a night on the grounds of the refuge, nor did he ever represent himself as anything but a journalist covering the occupation.

Of course, the government doesn’t actually believe that 50-year-old Santilli is an accomplice to any criminal activity.

Read between the lines and you’ll find that what the government is really accusing Santilli of is employing dangerous speech. As court documents indicate, the government is prosecuting Santilli solely as a reporter of information. In other words, they’re making an example of him, which is consistent with the government’s ongoing efforts to intimidate members of the media who portray the government in a less than favorable light.

This is not a new tactic.

During the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, numerous journalists were arrested while covering the regions’ civil unrest and the conditions that spawned that unrest. These attempts to muzzle the press were clearly concerted, top-down efforts to restrict the fundamental First Amendment rights of the public and the press.

As The Huffington Post reports:

The Obama administration’s treatment of reporters has caused controversy before. In 2009, the Department of Justice targeted a Fox News reporter in an investigation. Three years later, DOJ seized Associated Press reporters’ phone records. After that, former Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a review of the Justice Department’s news media policies. DOJ employees must consult with a unit within the Criminal Division before they arrest someone when there is a “question regarding whether an individual or entity is a ‘member of the news media,’” according to a January 2015 memo from Holder to DOJ employees.”

That the government is choosing to target Santilli for prosecution, despite the fact that they do not recognize new media journalists as members of the mainstream media, signals a broadening of the government’s efforts to suppress what it considers dangerous speech and stamp out negative coverage.

The message is clear: whether a journalist is acting alone or is affiliated with an established news source, the government has no qualms about subjecting them to harassment, arrest, jail time and trumped up charges if doing so will discourage others from openly opposing or exposing the government.

You see, the powers-that-be understand that if the government can control speech, it controls thought and, in turn, it can control the minds of the citizenry.

Where the government has gone wrong is in hinging its case against Santilli based solely on his incendiary rhetoric, which is protected by the First Amendment and which bears a striking resemblance to disgruntled patriots throughout American history.

Here’s what Santilli said: “What we need, most importantly, is one hundred thousand unarmed men and women to stand together. It is the most powerful weapon in our arsenal.”

Now compare that with the call to action from Joseph Warren, a leader of the Sons of Liberty and a principal figure within the American Revolution: “Stain not the glory of your worthy ancestors, but like them resolve never to part with your birthright; be wise in your deliberations, and determined in your exertions for the preservation of your liberties. Follow not the dictates of passion, but enlist yourselves under the sacred banner of reason; use every method in your power to secure your rights.”

Indeed, Santilli comes across as relatively docile compared to some of our nation’s more outspoken firebrands.

Santilli: “I’m not armed. I am armed with my mouth. I’m armed with my live stream. I’m armed with a coalition of like-minded individuals who sit at home and on YouTube watch this.”

Now compare that to what George Washington had to say: “Unhappy it is, though, to reflect that a brother’s sword has been sheathed in a brother’s breast and that the once-happy plains of America are either to be drenched with blood or inhabited by slaves. Sad alternative! But can a virtuous man hesitate in his choice?”

And then there was Andrew Jackson, a hothead if ever there was one. He came of age in the early days of the republic, served as the seventh president of the United States, and was not opposed to shedding blood when necessary: “Peace, above all things, is to be desired, but blood must sometimes be spilled to obtain it on equable and lasting terms.”

This is how freedom rises or falls.

There have always been those willing to speak their minds despite the consequences. Where freedom hangs in the balance is when “we the people” are called on to stand with or against individuals who actually exercise their rights and, in the process, push the envelope far enough to get called out on the carpet for it.

Do we negotiate the Constitution, or do we embrace it, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel, no matter how hateful or ugly it gets, and no matter how much we may dislike its flag-bearers?

Comedian Lenny Bruce laid the groundwork for the George Carlins that would follow in his wake: foul-mouthed, insightful, irreverent, incredibly funny, and one of the First Amendment’s greatest champions who dared to “speak the unspeakable” about race, religion, sexuality and politics. As Village Voice writer Nat Hentoff attests, Bruce was “not only a paladin of free speech but also a still-penetrating, woundingly hilarious speaker of truth to the powerful and the complacent.”

Bruce died in 1966, but not before being convicted of alleged obscenity for challenging his audience’s covert prejudices by brandishing unmentionable words that, if uttered today, would not only get you ostracized but could get you arrested and charged with a hate crime. Hentoff, who testified in Bruce’s defense at his trial, recounts that Lenny used to say, “What I wanted people to dig is the lie. Certain words were suppressed to keep the lie going. But if you do them, you should be able to say the words.”

Not much has changed in the 50 years since Bruce died. In fact, it’s gotten worse.

What we’re dealing with today is a government that wants to suppress dangerous words—words about its warring empire, words about its land grabs, words about its militarized police, words about its killing, its poisoning and its corruption—in order to keep its lies going.

As I document in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, what we are witnessing is a nation undergoing a nervous breakdown over this growing tension between our increasingly untenable reality and the lies being perpetrated by a government that has grown too power-hungry, egotistical, militaristic and disconnected from its revolutionary birthright.

The only therapy is the truth and nothing but the truth.

Otherwise, there will be no more First Amendment. There will be no more Bill of Rights. And there will be no more freedom in America as we have known it.

As the insightful and brash comedian George Carlin observed:

“Rights aren’t rights if someone can take them away. They’re privileges. That’s all we’ve ever had in this country, is a bill of temporary privileges. And if you read the news even badly, you know that every year the list gets shorter and shorter. Sooner or later, the people in this country are gonna realize the government does not give a fuck about them! The government doesn’t care about you, or your children, or your rights, or your welfare or your safety. It simply does not give a fuck about you! It’s interested in its own power. That’s the only thing. Keeping it and expanding it wherever possible.”