That free speech is under attack by the governments local and Federal should be manifestly apparent from the stories that have appeared of the last few years here at Res Ipsa Loquitur. In articles from our host, myself and my fellow guest bloggers, we’ve seen open attacks on free speech as a right proper, attacks on anonymous political free speech, the prosecution and persecution of whistleblowers and the erosion of shield laws protecting reporters and attacks on free speech and pluralism in general in the form of blasphemy laws just to name a few of the threats that have come to our attention. What is most troubling is that the Federal government has stepped up their efforts to outright infringe upon the free speech rights of citizens and the press and chill the right however possible. Free speech is critical for the function of democracy. Without dissent, there can be no debate, only the dictates of the strong over the weak which is by definition tyranny. That is one of the reasons that it was so important that the Founders protected it in the 1st Amendment. However, they felt in particular that the freedom of the press was a not just free speech, but a very special kind of free speech that merited both special mention and protection in the 1st. The 1st Amendment reads in relevant part:
Congress shall make no law [. . .] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”.
As we know, there are legitimate reasonable restrictions on free speech such as defamation, incitement and threats (particularly threats of violence). So before we look at the two present instances of the chilling of free speech – one a local story about a graduation and one the national story concerning the DOJ accessing the phone records for hundreds of reporters working for the Associated Press – let us first ask examine what is meant by the term “chilling free speech”.