"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Francois Voltaire
No right is more fundamental than freedom of speech. Without freedom
of speech you can't communicate your ideas and feelings, decry a
social injustice, pursue an artistic vision, investigate scientific
truth, practice a religion, or criticize government. If freedom
of speech is destroyed, self-development is crippled, social progress
grinds to a halt, and official lies become the only "truth."
Although freedom of speech can be inhibited by intolerant people,
it can only be destroyed by brute force, particularly government
If fundamentalists demand that "Playboy" magazines be removed
from store shelves, that is not censorship. Others are free to demand
- just as forcefully - that "Playboy" be kept on shelves. And merchants
can reject the fundamentalists' demands. But when government sends
in police to close down bookstores, arrest musicians, artists, and
photographers, burn videotapes, or shut down computer networks,
that is censorship.
CENSORSHIP IS THE HANDMAIDEN OF A POLICE STATE
Censorship is the use of force to control what you can say, read,
or see. Although occasionally private individuals and groups engage
in censorship - for example by stealing "insensitive" newspapers (which
has occurred on several U.S. college campuses) or threatening to kill
"indecent" artists, like "Satanic Verses" author Salman Rushdie -
the primary agent of censorship is government.
In Nazi Germany, the works of Jewish writers were seized and burned
by storm troopers. Resisters were beaten and shot. Merely criticizing
the government could mean being sent to a concentration camp. In
the Soviet Union and Communist China, the government burned bibles
and churches, as well as unapproved books and art.
But censorship does not only exist in police states. In England,
since 1974, 6,246 people have been imprisoned without trial under
the Prevention of Terrorism Act, for such "crimes" as suspicion
of supporting an illegal organization or providing a forum for banned
ideas. That hasn't stopped IRA bombings. But it has made the people
of England much less free. In Panama, after the U.S.-sponsored overthrow
of dictator Manuel Noriega, journalists were rounded up, shot and
killed (see the film "The Panama Deception").
THE RISE OF CENSORSHIP IN AMERICA
Censorship has been growing in the United States as well. The First
Amendment to our Constitution unequivocally states that "Congress
shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the
Yet during the last decades, with ever-growing zeal, our legislatures
have been censoring books, films, photography, art, music, news,
and even scientific information. And our courts - all the way up
to the Supreme Court - have said it's legal.
"DIRTY" PICTURES. On November 2, 1995, Toni Marie Angeli was arrested
at Zona Photo Labs in Massachusetts. She was picking up pictures
of her 4-year-old son Nico in their bathtub. The photos were for
a photography course she was taking at Harvard.
Detective W. Phillips of Cambridge accused her of being a child
pornographer and threatened: "if you don't cooperate, I will take
that kid away from you on the spot."
Under the 1990 Comprehensive Crime Act, nude pictures of your
own children can be prosecuted as "child pornography." U.S. Supreme
Court Justice Brennan warns that the law is so broad, you could
even be prosecuted for having "pictures of topless bathers at a
BURNING BOOKS. In June of 1993, the Supreme Court said it was
constitutional to destroy over 100,000 books and tapes, and seize
all of the assets of a chain of bookstores without trial because
eleven of the books and tapes sold by the chain were judged obscene.
(Alexander v. United States). Under this decision, federal police
could destroy the entire inventory of every major chain of bookstores
in the nation - like Crown or B. Dalton - if only a few of the items
they sell are judged obscene.
POLITICALLY-CORRECT SPEECH. If freedom of speech means anything
at all, it means the right to express ideas others disagree with.
Yet the political-correctness movement has resulted in thousands
of students and workers being punished for such "offenses" as the
use of derogatory names, inconsiderate jokes, "misdirected" laughter,
and "conspicuous exclusion" from conversation. Punishments for saying
the wrong thing include expulsion, loss of jobs, and mandatory "sensitivity"
HEALTH POLICE ARMED WITH MACHINE GUNS. In 1991, an FDA magazine
warned, "the agency will not tolerate the practice of promoting
drugs and medical devices for unapproved uses . . . [the] FDA is
prepared to enforce this law through legal steps such as seizure,
injunction and prosecution."
On May 6, 1992, heavily-armed police and FDA agents kicked down
the door of Dr. Jonathan Wright's Tacoma medical clinic in Washington
State. For 14 hours, employees were held at gunpoint while FDA agents
smashed medical equipment and ransacked the offices. Dr. Wright's
"crime"? Making unapproved claims about high-potency vitamins.
In 1994 alone, the FDA launched over 200 violent raids on vitamin
stores, clinics, and doctors for such "crimes".
As a result of FDA policies, the free flow of medical information
has been reduced to a trickle. According to former Federal Trade
Commission official and Boston University professor John Calfree,
"Cancer newsletters have been shut down. Symposiums have nearly
been brought to a halt . . . Press conferences announcing new applications
. . . are for the most part eliminated." Hundreds of lifesaving
uses for existing drugs and devices have been banned, and medical
manufacturers have begun to leave America.
"INDECENT" SPEECH COULD LAND YOU IN PRISON. Under Section 223
of the new Communications Decency Act, indecent speech via a telecommunications
device (including your telephone, fax, computer and the Internet)
is punishable by up to 2 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
But just what is "indecent speech"? No one knows. Congress didn't
bother to define it. However the language of the Decency Act is
so broad that it could include an explicit love note e-mailed to
your spouse, or even saying one of "seven dirty words" banned by
the FCC on the telephone .
Even worse, human-rights groups say electronic reporting of prison
rapes or international atrocities such as massacres in Chechnya,
could be a crime under this act.
The Decency Act is being challenged in court and will be reviewed
by the Supreme Court. But if it is upheld, thousands of journalists,
human-rights activists, and ordinary citizens could face imprisonment
or a $100,000 fine for a slip of the tongue.
CRIMINALIZING POLITICAL SPEECH. Enacted one year after the Oklahoma
City bombing, the Omnibus Counterterrorism Act does a lot more than
go after terrorists. Its "conspiracy" provisions are a threat to
any American who has anything to do with a foreign or domestic political
organization the government dislikes.
Under this law, any individual or group in America can be branded
"terrorists" by the Attorney General. Then the government can seize
all of the assets of the banned group, as well as the assets of
anyone who contributes to it. If you pay $5 to attend a lecture
by a Middle Eastern group, and the Attorney General later decides
that they might have terrorist links, your home and business could
GOVERNMENT NEWS MANAGEMENT. Increasingly, the government is controlling
the news. According to the watchdog group Accuracy In Media, over
87% of national network news comes either from government bureaucrats
Each year, government controls more of the news you hear, sometimes
with deadly results. During the Gulf War, reporters were forced
into carefully-controlled press pools and all images of dead soldiers
and civilians were prohibited. Years later, how many Americans know
that at least 6,000 Iraqi civilians were killed by U.S. "smart"
The same news control is now being used in the U.S. In Waco, Texas
- where 86 innocent men, women and children were shot or burned
alive by the FBI and BATF - all contact between the Branch Davidians
and the press was cut off. The few reporters who tried to enter
the Davidians' property were turned away at gunpoint by armed troops
and told if they persisted, to expect "tragic consequences." As
a result, to this day, not one American in 10,000 knows that close
to half the Branch Davidians were black or that the CS-gas the FBI
used is lethal in enclosed buildings.
RECLAIMING OUR FREEDOM OF SPEECH
For the last 50 years, government assaults on freedom of speech in
the U.S. have been growing. Today, not just sexual images, but health
information, critical news reports, and even political expression
are being censored.
People whose only crime is that they hold unpopular ideas or expose
government lies, are being harassed, imprisoned and even killed.
In America, censorship is not only wrong, it is illegal. Our Bill
of Rights is unmistakably clear. "Congress shall make no law abridging
freedom of speech." It is time our legislatures and courts obeyed
their own laws.
To preserve our freedom of speech, we must fight for it. Support
groups like ISIL, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American
PEN Society, and the ACLU, which are fighting for your freedom of
speech. Challenge campus and office speech codes. Subscribe to independent
newsletters and share them with others. And encourage others to
do the same.
For over 200 years American has stood for liberty and freedom
of speech. Today we can no longer take them for granted. We must
act now to restore our heritage of liberty - or risk losing it forever.
International Society for Individual Liberty
1800 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102
Tel: (415) 864-0952 Fax: (415) 864-7506
FREE SPEECH FOR ME - BUT NOT FOR THEE:
How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other
by Nat Hentoff
"[This book] unrelentingly and often hilariously skewers would-be
censors of the left and the right and those who supinely yield to
them. The ideologues and fools who are ready to surrender First
Amendment values for whatever political cause they fancy at that
moment will recoil from this book; for the rest of us, it's pure
joy" (from a review by Floyd Abrams). Available from ISIL. VISA
and MasterCard accepted. $12.95 plus $4.00 shipping.