It is a common theme on the radical Left that free speech itself is a bad thing, because it enables bad people and causes oppression of minorities. It saddens me to see people (especially candidates for elective office) dismiss the First Amendment as written by “white men” who supported slavery, as if that invalidates the principle of free speech. Do they not realize that without the First Amendment, the civil rights movement could not have existed?
Under segregation, blacks were routinely denied rights. Segregation was mandated by law, even in a private business. The civil rights marches brought attention to this, and also brought attention to how brutal the states were in suppressing dissent. As the message reached more and more people, public opinion started to change. Without the First Amendment protecting the right to speak of and expose these things, would segregation still exist today? One could point to other examples where free speech helped fight injustice.
In fact, we are seeing this right now. Would we be having a conversation about criminal justice reform at all if the government was allowed to silence criticism of law enforcement and unjust laws? News outlets, civil rights groups and private citizens are educating the public about unjust sentences, and that is stirring people to lobby their elected officials for reforms. Given that bad criminal justice policy hurts black people most, is it really wise to dismiss the First Amendment right to speak against these policies and against police militarization as a tool of white supremacist slave owners in the late 1700’s? Even some of those who dismiss the First Amendment nonetheless rely on it to advocate for their causes.
Yes, the First Amendment does allow bad actors to spew hatred and radicalize people to their cause. But the alternative – a state that criminalizes dissent against government policy – is far worse. This should not be a partisan issue, where Republicans fight with Democrats and liberals fight with conservatives. We should recognize that free speech benefits society. The fact that some people use freedom in a way we do not like does not mean that freedom should not exist. Supposedly “tolerant” Leftists ought to be the first people to recognize it. It is sad that they do not!