Protecting the free speech of anti-vaxxers

It is certainly despicable to blockade a vaccination center and try to stop others from getting a vaccine. If you do not want to get one, that is your own decision, but to try to stop others from making that choice is totalitarianism. But we must be careful to make a distinction between people who argue against vaccines in the pubic square and people who use physical force to stop others from getting vaccinated.

That is why this editorial in the Washington Post is so dangerous. The author conflates physical force with speech, lumping both in as “domestic terrorism.” While I disagree with anti-vaxxers’ speech and many of the “facts” they cite have been debunked, their speech is constitutionally protected under the First Amendment. It is certainly not an act of “terrorism” to publicly speak against vaccines. When you equate speech with violence, you set a disturbing precedent that will eventually erase the First Amendment.

Here is the other problem with this strategy: It is counterproductive. Calling someone a “terrorist” for his opinions is not going to convince him of anything. Instead, it will cause them to dig in, taking the censorship as evidence that “the establishment” is afraid of the truth being exposed. Worse, it makes other people suspicious of vaccines by creating sympathy for anti-vaxxers. It is better to educate than censor.

I am pro-vaccine. I have personally encouraged people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. I am going to take the vaccine as soon as it is available. With that said, equating blocking vaccination centers with anti-vaccine speech is dangerous and totalitarian. Anti-vaxxers are wrong, and many of them are peddling false information. But being wrong is not a crime, and neither is spreading misinformation – especially if you actually believe it. The answer to speech we do not like is more speech. Educate the public instead of unjustly smearing people who say things you dislike as “terrorists.”