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Freedom of speech is not absolute

Published July 16. 2019 12:39PM

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.”

Sounds straightforward and all-encompassing, but we know that there are exceptions, and we see them all around us.

On one hand, we are free to criticize our government, call our officials “idiots” and “morons” and even refer to our president in the vilest of terms. We can be assured that unless we make a direct threat to harm any of these officials that no members of the FBI or state or local police will show up at our door to arrest us for our comments.

That’s not to say that we will be immune to comments about our mental capacity on social media. One need look no further than to the online comments posted by Times News readers in response to some of the published opinion columns and news stories. They are also not shy about bashing each other.

This ability to say what is on our mind, regardless of how outrageous it might strike others, is one of the bedrocks of our constitutional guarantees built into the Bill of Rights.

After all, the concept of Freedom of Speech is to protect the person with the unpopular opinion or position from official muzzling or being imprisoned. In our increasingly polarized political environment, putting forth an opinion can result in vigorous reactions from both proponents and opponents, but they also can come with bullying and death threats.

While our nation’s founders were champions of robust defense for one’s causes, they also envisioned these issues being passionately debated but in a respectful acknowledgment for the other’s point of view.

On the other hand, your right to free speech has its limits: Who you are, what you say and how you say it are all factors. Politicians, for example, are immune from prosecution for comments they make as part of their official duties. While journalists find it dangerous that President Donald Trump characterizes the news media as the “enemy of the people,” there is nothing legally that they can do about it.

Conversely, if the news media write that Trump is a danger to the country and the worst president in history, he can grouse about it on Twitter, but there is nothing legally he can do to stop such publication.

Obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment, but it is difficult to define what is obscene. In the landmark 1973 Miller vs. California case, a three-part test was devised. One was: Would an average person, using contemporary community standards, find the material appeals to prurient (appealing to sexual desire) interest?

The community standards in, let’s say, Lehighton, are much different from those in San Francisco, so a court in Carbon County might be more inclined to consider an action or work obscene than a court in San Francisco County reviewing the same set of circumstances.

Broadcasters are under pressure to keep offensive language and images off the air or risk losing their licenses. Print media, however, are protected by the Freedom of Press plank in the First Amendment, meaning there is no prior restraint to publication and no licenses to worry about. A family newspaper such as the Times News, however, would no doubt have to answer to an enraged public if it started using the “f” word and other obscenities in print and online.

While citizens enjoy broad freedom of speech protection in public places, the right to say whatever we want in a private setting is another matter. You have few free-speech rights in the workplace. The Constitution’s right to free speech applies only when government is trying to restrict it.

Most employees serve “at will,” meaning that a boss can fire you for just about any reason. For example, if you are driving a company car and place a “Trump sucks” bumper sticker on it, you are not protected from being fired.

The law also prohibits speech that shows clear intent to discriminate or sexually harass, and it prevents employees in medical or financial fields from discussing confidential information outside of work.

The law has never permitted Americans to protest in any way they wanted. While the government can’t control what you say, how you say it is subject to what the courts rule is an appropriate time, place and manner.

Last week in Wilkes-Barre, activist Gene Stilp of Harrisburg was taken into custody after he tried to deface a Ku Klux Klan brick that was part of a city-owned monument. Stilp said he and many others found the brick offensive because of the group’s advocacy for white supremacy.

The city erected the monument in 2008 and allowed the public to purchase an engraved brick for $35. The issue began about a month ago when the East Coast Knights of the True Invisible Empire, a local KKK affiliate, purchased a brick.

Citing the First Amendment, Wilkes-Barre City Administrator Rick Gazenski said the group, just as anyone else, had the right to buy a brick. Stilp was prevented from using a chisel and hammer to deface the brick and was cited for disorderly conduct.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

Comments
Bruce, your description of employment at Will is inaccurate. The only way you can fire someone for having a trump bumper sticker is if your HR policies and procedures allow this consequence to happen. However, if a business were to develop a policy in which you are fired for political bumper stickers on your car, I’m certain that would be challenged as a first amendment violation.

So your example isn’t accurate.
There you go again Joe... Read first, then react. Read to learn and understand, not to formulate rebuttal. Bruce wrote...
"... if you are driving a company car and place a “Trump sucks” bumper sticker on it, you are not protected from being fired."
A Company Car!
Your arguement is dead... again!
Well Bruce, for the first time in my life, I saw the Government muzzle freedom of speech, and it was done under the Obama Administration. I will always remind my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren how the federal government violated the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, the Administrative Procedure Act, as well as the IRS's own rules and regulations, as they tryed to muzzle the TEA Party. You or many readers of the T.N. may not remember, because the Fake News tried to hide the story, but I will NEVER forget.
The Obama Administration had the IRS unlawfully delay, wchich effectively denied approval of TEA Party applications for tax exempt status, by means of a "comprehensive, pervasive, invidious and organized scheme that purposefully established unnecessary and burdensome inquiries and scrutiny of Plaintiffs’ applications based solely upon Plaintiffs’ political viewpoints", as stated by the ACLJ. Obama's transparent government unlawfully scrutinized the members of the TEA Party, causing a slowing to the organization of many local groups. They collected our names, donors names, listing of issues important to Plaintiffs’ organizations, including their positions on such issues, the contents of communications between the organizations and legislative bodies, the applicants’ criteria for membership, volunteer names and the political affiliations of persons associated with the organizations.
That was the first time in the history of these United States, that anything like that has ever happened. But I'll remind you of the Kenyan's campaign promise... "To fundamentally Transform America".
The Obama Administration, as history will tell, was the most corrupt administration our nation's history. He ried to shread our constitution any chance he got, and he succeeded in quieting the TEA Party.
You say, "The law has never permitted Americans to protest in any way they wanted". Must I remind you all of the incident in Baltimore (Freddie Grey riots), when Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said, “I’ve made it very clear that I work with the police and instructed them to do everything that they could to make sure that the protesters were able to exercise their right to free speech,”
“It’s a very delicate balancing act, because while we tried to make sure that they were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.”
She gave hoodlums free reign to destroy other peoples preoperty, over a lie. She pumped up the thugs that night, and her city was turned upside down.
And in 1... 2... 3... they will call me a racist.
The scrutiny on tea party organization’s applications for tax exempt status (inappropriate for a political organization) occurred under Bush and Obama.

You are wrong Joe. While I oppose 501c exemptions, they exist, and they were intended to be used many TEA Party Chapters. It's a tax law they wanted to participate in Joe. I would not have organized under 501, but, that's irrelevant. My point is of harsh abuse of power. Now where do you get Bush invlovement? Tell me Joe! Are you making things up again?
Warning, the following is a primary source and is not a breitbart or Russian bot social media posting.

https://web.archive.org/web/20180225112702/https://www.treasury.gov/tigta/auditreports/2017reports/201710054fr.pdf
There certainly shouldn’t be a preference either way but the report showed that the requests were over 2:1 by conservative orgs so you would expect more. However, the report also indicates that this practice dated back to 2004 (during Bush)
Turn off NBC Joe!
Original blame (media), came from fake news commentator, Chris Hayes, who said...
"Are we going to spend the next few months beating up on the IRS or the Bush-appointed former head of the IRS who was in charge when all of this happened?
No where in your report does it tie any activity by the Bush Administration, to abusing the power for anything but investigating certain groups for national security measures only. Obama did it to slow down any momentum of the opposition. Under the Obama Administration, e-mails went missing. Did e-mails go missing under Bush? Was the investigation political in nature, or a matter of national security? Well heck, any time you try and slow down the efforts of Democrats, you are in effect, protecting the country from domestic invasion.
Come on Joe. Mr. Meyers is 100% right. I got audited after a TEA Party contribution. The Obama Administration was crooked. You liberals always try to cover up the truth. Liberalism fails every time the truth is found about it. America is great.
Hey, Pelosi said words she's not permitted to say as Speaker today, and the Democrats even admitted her words violated the rules of decorum, the very rules that ensure democracy’s every voice can be heard. Pelosi violated her own freedom of speech, because the words used were... unwise lies of hate and disention. Look folks, this woman is Speaker of the House! Democrats have no idea how to behave with dignity and civility. She actually violated the guidelines of Thomas Jeffersons "Manual of Parliamentary Practice", which basically says, House members cannot use language on the floor "which is personally offensive to the President." In my opinion, every word out of Nancy is offensive in some manner or another.
Things are changing Bruce.
Out of touch old guy suckling off the government teat of social security tells us trump telling minority congresswomen to go back to their country isn’t racist. Then trumps people start trying to intimidate a Jewish journalist with demands to know his ethnicity. Nice
Joe the 4 Congresswomen hate America. President Trump told them to go back to where they were from. That could have been in interpreted one of two ways. Go back to...your district...or your homeland. Of course you would assume the most negative outcome. Do you laugh as Congresswoman Omar does when she talks about disparaging America? President Trump is a master in this. He linked the whole Democrat party to these nut jobs that shouldn’t even be Americans, yet be elected to Congress. Keep it up. Omar married her brother for citizenship fraud. Watch for an investigation.
Read slowly (again, not filtered through rush Limbaugh first so be careful):

“So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”
Who's sucking the gov. teat? Not me! I'm a producer.
I'm obviously older than you, and I could work circles around you... still!
Have a nice evening Joe.
The liberal way: experience failure, change the rules, create distraction, use “the ends justify the means” philosophy. The only thing is this stuff doesn’t work against President Trump. Trump is a winner...watch the NC Rally today. America is a country worth defending. Liberals have failed at every attempt to bring down America. Liberalism fails whenever the truth about it is exposed. Keep it up. Keep tweeting President Trump...it drives liberals over the cliff of sanity. MAGA!
That's the ticket. Repeat the same nonsense until you begin to believe it.Then call everyone who thinks otherwise a disgusting name.

That's a textbook case of Limbaugh fever. It's been tried before (Father Coughlin) and failed and will fail again this time.

RP, have you ever listened to Rush Limbaugh? Just what is a case of Limbaugh fever? You all inclusive liberals change colors all of a sudden when something you don’t like gains traction in society. Then the winds change when you say that Limbaugh listeners are brainwashed by...whatever. You are out of touch, especially when you reference Father Coughlin circa 1929. I can assure that millions listen to Rush Limbaugh (M-F, AM 790, 1200-1500). Also, Conservative Radio listeners are very informed. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking you are too smart to listen to Limbaugh. I challenge you to listen for a week. It will make you a better person to better understand the opposing viewpoint.

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