Free-Flow of Ideas Is at the Heart of Our Freedoms

EDITOR'S NOTES By Michael Wagar
Posted 11/17/16

On the front page of the Nisqually Valley News we report on a complaint filed by Steve Klein to the IRS claiming Nisqually Valley News columnist Jeff Adams was violating his church’s tax exempt …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Free-Flow of Ideas Is at the Heart of Our Freedoms

Posted

On the front page of the Nisqually Valley News we report on a complaint filed by Steve Klein to the IRS claiming Nisqually Valley News columnist Jeff Adams was violating his church’s tax exempt status by writing about local elections, and also a broad complaint that Adams is overzealous in his complaints about Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment.

I neither support nor condemn Adams’ writings, nor do I have a particular expertise on tax law, but I do vigorously defend his right to his opinions. It is what makes and keeps America great — the freedom of speech. I think it is important we hear all sides of matters of importance, and our local elections and the existence of RSE in our community are both of utmost importance.

I’m reminded of a case we had to examine in a press/law course offered in the journalism program at Western Washington University. It was Hustler Magazine Inc. vs. Jerry Falwell, from the early 1980s. It was more about libel law than freedom of speech, but there is much in the ruling that speaks to the vitality of allowing the free-flow of ideas and opinions. The details are obscene at best, but the resulting majority ruling (the vote was 8-0) written by United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Rehnquist is as valuable as ever as it pertains to freedom of speech. The ruling is long. The following are excerpts:

At the heart of the First Amendment is the recognition of the fundamental importance of the free flow of ideas and opinions on matters of public interest and concern.

The freedom to speak one’s mind is not only an aspect of individual liberty — and thus a good unto itself — but also is essential to the common quest for truth and the vitality of society as a whole.

We have therefore been particularly vigilant to ensure that individual expressions of ideas remain free from governmentally imposed sanctions. The First Amendment recognizes no such thing as a “false” idea.



When men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.

The sort of robust political debate encouraged by the First Amendment is bound to produce speech that is critical of those who hold public office or those public figures who are intimately involved in the resolution of important public questions or, by reason of their fame, shape events in areas of concern to society at large.

Justice Frankfurter put it succinctly in Baumgartner v. United States (1944), when he said that “one of the prerogatives of American citizenship is the right to criticize public men and measures.” Such criticism, inevitably, will not always be reasoned or moderate; public figures as well as public officials will be subject to “vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks.”

The candidate who vaunts his spotless record and sterling integrity cannot convincingly cry “Foul!” when an opponent or an industrious reporter attempts to demonstrate the contrary.

The fact that society may find speech offensive is not a sufficient reason for suppressing it.

Comments

No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here