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Free Speech Follies...AGAIN

A month ago, I wrote about Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Absolutists believe campaign finance reform is in violation of the First Amendment — corporations should have the same right to free speech enjoyed by individuals. They argue there's no evidence that overturning campaign finance reform will result in an influx of corporate wealth and influence into the political arena.

Riiight. Here's how corporations are already using the First Amendment: three of the nation's top credit rating agencies, Standard & Poor's, Moody's and Fitch, have hired big-time constitutional lawyers to argue that they can't be held responsible or sued for giving stellar ratings to crappy, high-risk bonds that later default, robbing us of our retirement savings.

Why? Because they're protected by free speech.

According to a Huffington Post Investigative Fund examination of court filings,

"...congressional testimony and Securities and Exchange Commission documents illustrates how the companies have repeatedly invoked that right to free speech to dodge government regulation and court action. The raters have never lost a courtroom battle to a disgruntled investor, not even in the Enron scandal. Enron enjoyed high grades on its bonds just four days before it filed for bankruptcy in 2001." Educate me, Mr. Constitutional-lawyer-in-the-pocket-of-big-business, because I don't see how this is different from a doctor saying that, in his opinion, the grapefruit-sized tumor on the CAT scan is Aunt Bessie's leftover fruit salad. Surely he can't be held accountable for his incompetence, because his opinion was an expression of free speech.

In Corporate free speech? Since when? (Boston Globe), Jim Sleeper points out that:

"A republic periodically has to save capitalism from itself. Corporations are creations of the republic, not its equals or superiors. We citizens charter them, protect them legally, subsidize them, and even bail them out - and punish them when, as with Pfizer Chemical, their profit-maximizing violates drug-safety rules." Furthermore, "As inanimate entities, (corporations) are incapable of what the political philosopher Michael Sandel calls 'a willingness to sacrifice individual interests for the sake of the common good, and the ability to deliberate well about common purposes and ends.'" The lowdown? Don't let fearmongers fool you into believing you'll be stripped of your First Amendment rights (and Second Amendment, and so on) and America will crumble if we don't grant corporations freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech has never been healthier — even the recently passed hate-crimes bill (Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act), which expands federal hate-crimes statutes to include sexual orientation and gender identity, won't, as conservatives feared, "criminalize preaching the Gospel and put preachers in the crosshairs."

So go on, say what you want, even if it's hateful. So long as it doesn't incite acts of violence and lawlessness, you're still covered by the First Amendment.

©2009 Tammy Yee

3 Comment count
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The importance of freedom of speech

I believe it's important for us to have freedom of speech because it's our rights to express ourselves about different things. However with rights comes responsibility and it's also part of the First Amendment that if you advocate hate speech, then you should face the consequences . That's just how life is. Every choice we make in life has consequences. The problem of religion is that it want to suppress our rights to criticize it. I.e. many Muslim governments demand that Western governments make it a hate crime when Islam is criticized. I find it sick and I find it infantile because in many Muslim countries, there are no Human Rights, there's not free speech, women have almost no rights, discrimination on minorities is even worse and I can go on and on talking about problems they are dealing with. Be free to speak your mind, but be prepared that others are also free to judge you and your opinions.


I know that some of you might find my opinion offensive, but it does not make it less true. 

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free speech

I couldn't agree with your more. Though I had focused on the corporate abuse of free speech, the blanket coverage the First Amendment provides for hate-mongerers and bigots is equally troubling. Where do the courts draw the line between hate-speech and acts of violence? Is there a statute of limitations? Why aren't parents or religious leaders held accountable for indoctrinating the young and raising them in a an environment of intolerance, where those who are different or who disagree are, by divine decree, inferior?

I could go on and on. It's unfortunate that some in the majority have come to the misguided and paranoid conclusion that they are being persecuted and stripped of their civil liberties, whether it be the right to medically neglect a child for religious reasons, or to carry a gun aboard an Amtrak train. And I tire of the opinion that because I lack the same religous conviction, I am somehow amoral and responsible for the demise of values in this country, when what should be feared is intolerance, the decline in intellectual reasoning and the lack of open dialogue. Such behavior only leads to scapegoating, domestically and abroad.

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The problem with religion

The problem with religion is that it promotes fear and it wants to suppress freedom of speech and those who are protesting must be grateful for their rights to protest , instead of wasting their times on negative issues.