The issue of free speech is often misunderstood, sometimes carefully and deliberately so. Its alleged violation is one of the many excuses Republicans use to become indignant. Republicans are indignant about many things. These days victimhood is an essential part of being a Republican and alleged violations of their freedom of speech are among their favorite martyrdoms.
But to be fair, freedom of speech is misunderstood by many people, not just Republicans. Contrary to common opinion, freedom of speech is not a license to say what you like whenever you like without consequences. One person can contradict another person’s free speech with words. Those words can even be insulting. To put it another way, you can’t violate someone’s freedom of speech with more speech. All Constitutionally guaranteed free speech means is, if neither person is engaged in illegal speech — hate speech, incitement, conspiracy to commit a crime — neither can be arrested or fined or inconvenienced by the government for that speech.
I can also throw you out of my house or my private club or my social network if I don’t like your speech and there’s nothing you can do about it. I have not violated your Constitutional rights. I have set private rules about what you can and cannot say in a place under my control and I have enforced them. There exists no legal remedy for my action. It is almost always overlooked by the free speech martyrs among us that freedom of speech includes freedom from speech.
For example, on Wednesday Texas Senator Ted Cruz slammed his hand on his desk and said to Merrick Garland, “My God! A parent did a Nazi salute at a school board because they thought the policies were oppressive!” Then demanded of Garland, “Is doing a Nazi salute … protected by the First Amendment?” Garland replied that it is, and he was correct to do so. But it’s also an execrable thing for Cruz to defend.
That he did it on the anniversary of the deadliest attack on Jews in US history was also execrable. And I am about to exercise my right to free speech by excoriating Senator Cruz for his bad taste and worse beliefs. The Senator’s remarks came on the anniversary of the 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. It was there that a gunman yelling, “All Jews must die,” killed 11 people attending Saturday morning services.
So when an evil, poisonous little cockroach (and I mean no disrespect to cockroaches — unlike Cruz they have their place) defends Nazi salutes he gives something away about himself. He reveals what he really is inside, which is a hateful piece of human crap who, had he been born in Germany in the 1920s, would have almost certainly grown up to be a virulent, poisonous little Nazi bastard. He’s that kind of guy.
So sure, that parent’s right to sieg heil the school board for insisting that their children wear masks so their children and other people’s children won’t get sick and possibly die from coronavirus was certainly that parent’s Constitutional right. He or she (I am unsure which) had every Constitutional right to compare the mild inconvenience of wearing a mask, done to prevent the spread of a deadly virus, with the actions of a Nazi state that rounded up innocent Jews and murdered them on an industrial scale. That doesn’t mean I can’t use the same Constitution to insult them for it, and that doesn’t mean I can’t use the same Constitution to condemn a United States Senator for appalling bad taste for defending them.
It’s incomprehensible to me the scabrous, self-immolating causes people like Cruz rally around. If only they could see themselves as we do. The hills Cruz and others like him choose to die on are literal. Hundreds of thousands of “freedom fighters” have literally died on that hill. Hundreds of thousands more will also die. To enlist the Nazi salute in this particular cause for “freedom” is, at least, consistent with its stupid and evil origins. I plan to use my own Constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech and go right on mocking and insulting and deploring them for it. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.