“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” –Amendment 1
The First Amendment is under assault. So-called “Free Speech Zones” are popping up on “public” land, and governing bodies are instituting “permit” processes before individuals or groups can assemble to exercise political speech.
Grassroots activists and the organizations they affiliate with - like Campaign for Liberty - are under attack and laws, dubbed "Gag Acts," are being proposed that will suppress their outreach efforts, while powerful corporate lobbyists are gaining ever more control over politicians.
And under the guise of “Campaign Finance Reform,” states across the nation are proposing legislation that would force citizens to fund politicians’ campaigns using taxpayer dollars.
Even religious freedom is being eroded in various states, as private business owners are now being forced to either violate personal religious tenets or close up shop.
But that’s not all. Press freedom is in the crosshairs of federal, state, and local governing bodies, causing a chilling effect on reporting.
The First Amendment was written to protect that which is controversial and often, unpopular. These rights are a direct threat to the authority of the State, and if those in power can control the message in the public square, they neutralize the threat.
Local ordinances requiring a permit to organize or exercise speech are on the rise, and fees are often charged in order to acquire the permit. Acquiring a permit can be an arduous process, and delays in application approval can hamstring even the most prepared grassroots groups.
Orwellian no speech and free speech “zones” have been increasingly used by government entities over the past two decades. Citizens wanting to exercise their right to peacefully assemble are corralled into cages or cordoned-off areas, often far-removed from the media, politicians, or officials they are attempting to appeal to.
The use of free speech zones proliferated after 9/11 and expanded even more in recent years. And while they’re most commonly used to limit political speech, they’ve also been used to constrain religious speech. For instance, at the San Francisco National Airport, individuals wishing to hand out religious pamphlets must first acquire a permit and then are confined to “free speech booths.”
At the same time various governing bodies move to restrict individual First Amendment rights, media censorship is on the rise. For instance, media is often barred from accessing free speech zones. This is a dangerous practice, as it removes all accountability and permits government officials to control the narrative unchecked.
In August 2014, after riots and demonstrations broke out in Ferguson, Missouri, a “no fly zone” was quickly established over the area. Initially, local authorities denied the purpose of the restriction was to keep the media out, but in November 2014, according to the Associated Press, audio recordings proved otherwise.
During that same event, two journalists on the ground settled into a restaurant several blocks from the activity so they could recharge their phones. They attempted to follow orders to leave given by police in riot gear, but they received conflicting orders, then were allegedly roughed up and arrested. Another media crew was fired on with tear gas and rubber bullets.
These are just a couple of stories of many involving suppression of the media, and as Thomas Jefferson warned, without freedom of the press, liberty will be lost. When journalists are threatened with jail time for doing their job, they begin to question whether it’s worth the risk to bring you the news.
And a distinction is now being made between “professional” media and “citizen journalists.” This is a clear attempt to discount the reporting of private citizens attempting to bring attention to issues of concern to them.
It is not the responsibility of government to limit speech in the public square in order to protect citizens from controversial views; rather, it is the prerogative of citizens to discern for themselves what they want to listen to, read, research, and believe. The First Amendment was written to restrain government, not the people.
There is much that can be done at the state and local level to stop many of these infringements, such as Gag Acts, Public Campaign Financing, speech “permits,” and the establishment of free speech zones. Campaign for Liberty state groups have derailed assaults on political speech in a number of states already, but there is more work to do. That’s why we need your help.
So What Can You Do?
Check out your state Campaign for Liberty page here to see if they are currently working on this issue. (Be sure to check back often for new battles.)
Spread The Word
If you’d like to assist Campaign for Liberty state efforts, simply click on “contact coordinator” from your state page, or send an email to email@example.com.
Current First Amendment Battles