“I may not agree with you, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

This used to be the belief of most Americans. Maybe we didn’t all pledge to literally die to protect the First Amendment, but it is a cornerstone of America, simultaneously protecting our right to speak, to gather with others, and to tell our elected officials what we believe. It is, in fact, the first amendment to our Constitution. It doesn’t merely limit what the government can do, it prohibits the government from limiting our speech.

We used to tout the benefits and importance of being able to speak our minds, especially about what the government was doing or not doing. This was as American as anything about us as a people or a nation.

READ MORE — Guy Ciarrocchi: I’m saying there’s a chance … to move-up Pennsylvania’s primary

It’s been troubling over the last few years as more and more people talk about “opponents” promoting “hate” and “disinformation,” as if there is always a clearly correct and a clearly wrong idea — as if that actually matters. We have a right to be wrong. To think out loud. To challenge. 

Over the last few years, public officials began using “hate” and “disinformation” to refer to speech about elections, candidates, Covid, the climate, and more. Much worse, there is mounting evidence that government officials pressured, urged, or colluded with members of corporate and digital media to limit, ban, or “hide” certain comments, stories or postings — an alarming violation of the Constitution. (Some might call it fascist behavior.)

Two recent news items brought it home. First, a Pew research poll’s results: 62 percent of teenagers think it’s more important that online comments “make people feel welcome and safe” than allowing people “to speak their minds freely.” This is a troubling trend. But they’re teenagers. They don’t hold government power.

However, the second story crystallizes the problem and the very dangerous divide in America. The U.S. House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to investigate government censorship and government “working with” media of all types. During the testimony, both Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and the First Amendment suffered a black eye.

Some Democratic House members tried to prohibit Mr. Kennedy from speaking, literally offering a motion to prohibit him from being heard. Then, during their personal remarks, several members promoted limits on free speech. There was a public discussion led by members of Congress on the idea that if the government deems something “hateful” or decides it’s “disinformation,” it shouldn’t be heard.

So, it’s time for a refresher course. Here’s the First Amendment.

“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.”

Rather than trying to ban or silence witnesses, if a member adamantly opposes the message or the messenger, the member could choose not to attend the hearing, or walk out of the hearing. He or she could ask tough questions, offer remarks at the hearing, or on the house floor, on any street corner, or over whatever social media platform the member chooses.

What is not acceptable is offering a motion to prohibit a witness from speaking. This is, after all, the United States and not a dictatorship.

Why don’t our leaders understand civics, or know our history, or uphold the First Amendment? Don’t they know we’ve been divided before — that many Americans have thought what their opponents were saying was factually wrong; horrible policy; or even hateful — but everyone was allowed to voice their opinion because we have … the First Amendment?

Much of America’s success rests on the First Amendment. And, yes, one could disagree. But let’s have that argument.

Why don’t high school and college teachers teach about the First Amendment? Why don’t they explain its virtue and how it has helped America and made us unique on earth? Maybe it’s because today’s opposing voices are disinvited, shouted-down, and rarely heard. Or, because we offer safe spaces to “protect” students from “hurtful” ideas.

Americans have often held diametrically opposed views. Read any account of the discussion over the Constitution. Read the debates over slavery, Vietnam, or Watergate. Consider the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of then-U.S. Circuit Court Judge Robert Bork in 1987. Listen to what then-Senators Biden and Kennedy (RFK Jr.’s uncle) said about Judge Bork. What they said about that brilliant, decent man was inexcusable hate speech. But it was their right to say it.

Read the stories about the ACLU going to court to defend the KKK’s right to hold a public march — in a Jewish neighborhood in Skokie, Illinois in 1978. The KKK’s petition to march is one of the most hateful uses of the First Amendment, ever. The ACLU, embracing the Constitution and the First Amendment, went to court to argue that those real “hate-mongers” had a right to get a permit to march. That is one of the finest moments in the defense of the First Amendment.

In 1989, a deeply divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that burning the American flag was free speech protected by the First Amendment. You want to talk about hate speech? Here was an act whose sole purpose was to provoke anger and hurt. 

The late, great conservative Justice Antonin Scalia stunned many by voting to uphold this hateful anti-American speech. Why? As he said years later, “If it were up to me, I would put in jail every sandal-wearing, scruffy-bearded weirdo who burns the American flag. But I am not king.”

We need more Scalias. We need the ACLU to return to its roots. We need teachers to teach and celebrate the First Amendment. The Founding Fathers were not perfect people, but they gave us a vision and guiderails that have largely worked for almost 250 years.

I would argue that much of America’s success rests on the First Amendment. And, yes, one could adamantly disagree. But let’s have that argument.

Guy Ciarrocchi is a Fellow with the Commonwealth Foundation, and a writer and strategist. Guy is the former CEO of the Chester County Chamber and Republican nominee for Congress. GLCstrategies@gmail.com  @PaSuburbsGuy

28 thoughts on “Guy Ciarrocchi: It’s the First Amendment for a reason”

  1. Good article. There are a few comedians with a similar bit regarding this topic: “The second thing they wrote after the 1st Amendment… and we better make sure everyone gets to keep our guns if we’re going to have this 1st Amendment.” The 2nd Amendment has nothing to do with hunting nor sports shooting.

  2. There’s unpopular speech and opinions and there’s misinformation and falsehoods regarding such issues as COVID, vaccines, racist conspiracies like those espoused by QAnon and climate change that lead to violence and death. It’s disturbing as someone with Congressional ambitions you would defend that or just don’t know the difference

    1. Reply

      Good morning. Btw, I much prefer commentators who show who they are. This silliness with pseudonyms is just that, silliness. But, to the point. First your ideas are your ideas. You have a right to hold them and say them. However…They have absolutely no constitutional or historical basis. None.

      In fact, what you are suggesting is the exact opposite of the Constitution and culture of the United States of America.

      Putting aside that the debate about what Covid is; how it was spread; how it should be treated and the disaster that were lockdowns—and the reality that many things deemed “disinformation” in 2020 are now seen as accurate or at least acceptable; there’s an even bigger point.

      The debate around Covid needed to happen. And must continue. We each have a right to speak—and even more importantly, to challenge and criticize our government officials.

      Lastly, many reasonable, thoughtful, kind-spirited people believe that there are two genders. Many thoughtful, educated, reasonable people do not believe that there is a climate “crisis.”

      First, those people genuinely believe they are right and they believe that those suggesting multiple genders or a climate crisis/emergency are factually wrong—maybe even saying these wrong things purposely to create division and controversies.

      But, the answer is to have that debate. Let’s hear all sides.

      Second, in America, even mean, “stupid” and “hateful” people are allowed to say things, too.

      Your suggestion that “wrong” ideas or “hateful” motivations are justification to block speech is 180-degrees removed from the Constitution and customs of the United States. And, respectfully, many times are in the eye of the beholder

      P.S. I do not now nor in 2022 did I “aspire” to be a Congressman. Like many in our history; I left my job and my way of life to speak-out and fight back because our government was broken and racing in the wrong direction. Like many, I would have preferred to stay at my job, coach softball and spend nights with my family. I write out of the same sense of duty.

    2. Can you clarify what conspiracies relate to covid, vaccines, and climate change?

      Does anyone even know people still getting boosters or vaccines? Yet just a couple years ago it was the only way to get back to normal.

      Those on the left deemed “conspiracy theories” 4 years ago, in some cases, turned out to be accurate and by your point would have been prevented from being spoken.

      So – YEP. Thanks, Guy.

      1. Again Dung – Guy must really hate that moniker – everyone speaks and no one’s stopping them. But everyone also has the same right to call out misinformation and hate speech but apparently Guy doesn’t like that.

  3. Also in the district where you lost in 2022, there was an incident just last week with Neo Nazis hanging an anti-Semitic banner over a highway, but yeah sure, Guy, the problem is calling out hate speech, not . . . . hate speech.

    1. Good morning. Another pseudonym checks in…as is your right, btw. Let’s try this again…when someone or some groups says, writes or posts something that is hateful—in your eyes, or even antisemitic hate that would be deemed hateful by 99.9% of us (including me)—the response is to condemn, mock or speak out against it. The answer is not to prohibit it. The most effective way to fight bad, dangerous, hateful or dumb ideas is to engage them, refute them. The government must not block them—and, the government must not force/urge/compel a private media platform to do its work for them. And, notwithstanding the anti-Semitic genuinely hateful signs (in the eyes of 99.9% of Americans), the government cannot simply label something “hateful” or “wrong” have remove it from the public discourse. Riley Gaines’ speeches and posts deserve to be heard: calling them “hateful” doesn’t give the government—nor Facebook being pressured by the government—the right to remove her remarks. Rep. Omar says things about Israel and Jewish-Americans that I find deeply offensive—even hateful. But, she may give that speech or posts those remarks. One may or may not agree with Gaines or Omar. The best way to address speech is with speech—or ignore it.

      1. Guy, things aren’t getting removed from social media. You literally said my point. Engage with it and call it out. That’s what’s happening when things are labeled on social media.
        One common theme of your campaign was if it didn’t matter to you (ie – abortion) it wasn’t a crisis. Didn’t work then, sounds very arrogant now. You don’t get to decide for others what’s a crisis and what’s not. You have a lot of blind spots when it comes to putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. For trans and non-binary people, it absolutely IS a crisis when you say their experience isn’t real.
        Cite that the majority of Americans hold those beliefs from a non-garbage source. Because I beg to differ. It is VERY split. Because the Kaiser Foundation says about half of Americans have in fact vaccinated their kids 5-11, even the healthy ones, so NO, it is not a majority of Americans who don’t believe in COVID vaccines for kids. Only 35% were completely against vaccinating kids (others said variations on maybe). Completely unsurprisingly, there’s a huge split among party lines. Studies from Yale, Stanford. the Mayo Clinic and many other actual experts (that people should consult and not a poll of Americans) say masks work. When you say masks cause more harm than good, guess what, Guy? You’re spreading misinformation that can harm people. You literally just did it. Glad you’re okay with that. Also glad you’re not a lawmaker. In your social media and other outlets, you tend to extrapolate that the views of you and your bubble are everyone’s. 2022 election results beg to differ.
        I’m about to go enjoy the sunshine, but you yet again misrepresented what I said. People have a right to speech. People have a right to call it out and yes, this includes anything they deem a crisis, a call you don’t get to make. No one is guaranteed a congressional audience, and people who don’t like the response they get from social media platforms have a right to go elsewhere and keep saying whatever they want. Peace out, Guy.

  4. No one is being stopped from saying those things but responsible platforms are 100% right to label misinformation as such. Also you are putting words in my mouth. I never said people shouldn’t be allowed to say anything but people labeling misinformation and hate speech as such are also exercising their rights and are basically the only thing keeping misinformation and hate speech in check. Why do you have a problem with that?
    Yeah people saying COVID wasn’t real, masks didn’t work, vaccines don’t work or kill you, and that ingesting bleach and horse dewormer were great, medically sound ideas got others killed. You don’t think that garbage needs to be called out for what it 8
    is? Illuminating, Guy. You see the problem there as misinformation being labeled and not the unchecked spread of that misinformation?
    Also Kennedy’s rights are not being violated? He will continue to spread misinformation and lies and he won’t be stopped or arrested or anything like that. The 1st Amendment doesn’t guarantee the right to congressional testimony.
    Additionally it’s the right of trans people and non-binary people to call it hate speech when you deny they and their identities exist. First Amendment cuts both ways.
    And finally Guy I don’t care what you think of me and many others using fake names on message boards. You thinking it’s silly for me to maintain my privacy says everything about you and how much you respect others. Your opinion about it and what you “much prefer” is not something I give a damn about

    1. I disagree with much of what you said. And, the left’s infatuation with ad hominem attacks is well documented, sadly. For the record, most masks don’t work—and in many cases, cause more harm than good. Vaccines ought never been mandated as a condition of work—and, never, ever on healthy children. Thousands of nurses, firemen, police officers, soldiers and sailors lost their jobs—and countless every day Americans—thoughtlessly, recklessly. Btw, these are points that Now the majority of Americans believe. It’s a shame you don’t—but, that’s your right. And, it’s a black eye in our nation’s history that the government sought to block and remove anyone saying those things in 2020 and 2021. I was on the side of Liberty in 2020–and, still am, today. It’s, in fact, the Liberal position. Another example of the reality that Progressives are not Liberals—not in any way. But, one may say whatever one chooses and describe oneself however one chooses. Lastly, not everything is a crisis—though the attacks on and lack of understanding of the first amendment is one, imho. Not everything you disagree with has to be labeled hateful, dangerous or misinformation. Too many people see every issues as a 10 on the 10-point scale. Everything is a crisis or “must” be condemned. (A topic for another column). Go outside enjoy the sun. And say whatever you’d like…or just walk quietly, and smile.

  5. And I also respond to your columns “out of a sense of duty.” Plenty of people don’t agree with you. Something like 20 or 30 thousand voters

  6. Also, despite what you believe the majority of Americans believe, 6 in 10 healthcare workers believe in mandated COVID vaccines for those who work with patients (Kaiser) and 70% of all Americans supported same. So again, I’m dubious that you really have looked into what the majority thinks.
    Last but not least, since free speech is your jam, I’m going to assume you support everyone, EVERYONE’s, right to use whatever pronouns they damn well please in whatever setting them want? Free speech, no?

  7. Horse dewormer? Yes, Ivermectin’s first uses were in veterinary medicine to prevent and treat heartworm.
    Did you also know it was approved for human use in 1987, and the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded for its discovery and applications? Did you know it is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, and is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – for humans? Do you realize that there is an objective – not subjective – differentiation between the labeling of content, and the undisputed facts that various federal agencies (under BOTH Trump and Biden) pressured private companies to censor information? Horse dewormer is not a very accurate description of Ivermectin. Now, it also was never proven to help at all with Covid. It is also a generic medicine so there really wasn’t financial motivation to spend significant money to look into it much either. But “Horse dewormer” is what progressives – much different than actual liberals who support free speech – like to label a “dog whistle.” Btw, who decides what is “hateful”, “dangerous”, “disinformation”, or “misinformation”? Is not using “dewormer” language really just “disinformation?” Language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on its audience, yet lacking in sincerity or meaningful content is when people such as myself put up their walls even higher than they had them.

  8. You’re literally proving my point. It’s for parasites, which COVID isn’t. Invermectin as a COVID treatment is misinformation. It is inaccurate, untrue and potentially dangerous to say it’s for COVID. It’s a fact, it’s not some topic for debate like whether or not ska is good or pickles should top pizzas. When people say “ try invermectin for COVID” responsible platforms and medical entities that know better are 100% right to label it misinformation. Thank you for proving my point! I mean where does this end for you people?!?! Is it misinformation that cigarettes cause cancer??? Can we say that or should we poll our fellow Americans? How about tanning beds?? Transfers?? I actually feel bad for people that look a medical advice for reputable advice and studies and can’t trust that. It must be burden.

    1. You literally wrote “horse” dewormer, as you did… indicating it was specifically for horses… and you don’t think that phrase is misinformation or a lie?
      “Well, first of all I did not mean it was just for horses. Let’s get the facts straight. I wrote it was a dewormer, for parasites, that’s what I wrote… so I didn’t say it was horse medicine.”
      Oh… I thought you wrote horse dewormer… for horses… I’m sorry… I misunderstood.
      “I did write horse dewormer, but I did not say it was only for horses.”
      Oh, you did? Oh… oh, you tried to pretend it was for horses, because you literally called it “horse” dewormer. Ok. So, you are not a sincere person.

  9. Guy, you’re an old Republican friend. We’ve shared a bunch of experiences together, and I have enormous respect for you. I’m proud of my Republican bona fides—but it’s clear that we’ve drifted to opposite extremes of what was “my party”. I’m actually now, an independent. I remain a Reagan/Bush Republican, while (although you were a senior campaign official for George W.) you’re now clearly in the Trump camp. Honestly, Guy, that’s disappointing.
    As to this article, it’s intellectually embarrassing that you premise your argument solely on a Democratic committee’s alleged suppression of testimony from RFK, JR. Damn Guy…..he’s a kook (he should be heard, but not taken seriously). And yet, in your great indictment of offenses to the First Amendment, you neglected to mention Tucker or Fox News—and their agreement to settle for nearly $1 billion. If we’re going to assess the ongoing viability of first amendment protections, how can’t we talk about how justice was done as to Fox?
    I think we’ve always enjoyed our friendship. We’ve done some good things together. For the good of ALL (and not just your limited Commonwealth Foundation audience), let’s debate this stuff.

    Isn’t everyone interested in the truth? (smiley emoji assumed).

    Seriously Guy, for the sake of our country, shouldn’t there be a bit of give and take. If you don’t want to debate with me, at least stop posting half-sided arguments that appeal to a limited audience. Many (if not most) of my friends would embrace a hearty exchange. Posting is easy, arguing on the merits is hard.

      1. Mr. Segal,

        I dont know you, but I find myself in the independent camp more and more, too.

        However, your assessment was lazy and one side. Before going further into your comments. Go watch the full video of RFKs comments that supposedly are antisemitic and then watch the hearings where they attempt to corner him in process and by limiting time.

        I am willing to bet a nickle you have never actually listened to more than soundbites of RFK as it is presented by media. You can disagree, but I bet he’s at least smart enough to make you not call him a kook after listening to his spot on Rogan.

        If you don’t and continue to spout the above position, please consider taking a moment to see how offensive THAT is to everyone and their 1st ammendment rights, Go drink some more kool-aid and vote for Biden or Trump. You are no independent thinker.

      2. Yeh, my head tends to spin when I see the cherished first amendment invoked to protect publication of blatant falsehoods and in some recent cases to abridge other people’s civil rights. Other than some good bourbon, I’d welcome a good “chill pill” on this issue. I intend nothing personal.

        If we’re ever to return to any semblance of normalcy or even civility, we have to restore the sanctity of TRUTH and balanced argumentation. Lies and one-sided arguments are what continue to divide this country. Invoking the first amendment to excuse lies (as opposed to expressions of opinion) is a big part of the problem. We should demand intellectual honesty (from all sides).

        1. Lawrence:
          We are in agreement that lies, and one-sided arguments are what continue to divide this country. You wrote TRUTH – but let’s examine this concept of justifying censorship as we evaluate the initial conversation around Wuhan lab leak theory, and subsequent mitigation efforts our wise leaders demanded and all their harmful unintended consequences, and ask: What is TRUTH?
          TRUTH: prominent scientists have called for a full retraction of a high-profile study published in the journal Nature in March 2020 that explored the origins of SARS-CoV-2.
          TRUTH: Richard H. Ebright, the Board of Governors Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Rutgers University, called the paper “scientific fraud.”
          TRUTH: Dr. Joao Monteiro, chief editor of Nature, rebuffed calls for a retraction, and said the authors were merely “expressing opinions.”
          TRUTH: The Proximal Origin study was presented as authoritative and scientific. Jeremy Farrar, a British medical researcher and then chief scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO), told USA Today that Proximal Origin was the “most important research on the genomic epidemiology of the origins of this virus to date.”
          TRUTH: Dr. Anthony Fauci, speaking from the White House podium in April 2020, cited the study as evidence that the mutations of the virus were “totally consistent with a jump from a species of an animal to a human.” Fact-check organizations were soon citing the study as proof that COVID-19 “could not have been manipulated.”
          TRUTH: Far from being presented as a handful of scientists “expressing opinions,” the Proximal Origin study was treated as gospel, a dogma that could not even be questioned. This allowed social media companies (working hand-in-hand with government agencies) to censor people who publicly stated what Andersen and his colleagues were saying privately-that it seemed plausible that SARS-CoV-2 came from the laboratory in Wuhan that experimented on coronaviruses and had a checkered safety record.
          The lack of accountability is why 1/3 of Republican voters will vote for Trump no matter what happens with his court issues.

    1. Lawrence,
      The US federal government is using social media companies to censor the contrary thoughts of Americans and are in direct contrivance of the First Amendment. Part of the limited expedited discovery in the “Missouri v. Biden” case exposed (separate and apart from the Twitter files) is both unprecedented and loathsome. The most widespread and troubling discovery? CISA has designated YOUR THOUGHTS part of the government’s infrastructure. They call it “cognitive infrastructure.”
      How bad is it?!? As part of its 2023 investigation into the federal government’s role in censoring lawful speech on social media platforms, the House Committee on the Judiciary issued subpoenas to Meta, Facebook and Instagram’s parent company, and Alphabet, Google and YouTube’s parent. Documents obtained revealed that the FBI, on behalf of Ukrainian intelligence, requested and, in some cases, directed, the world’s largest social media platforms to censor Americans engaging in constitutionally protected speech online about the war in Ukraine. That is an outrage!
      Under the current administration of President Joe Biden (Trump Administration was just as bad regarding this topic – at best they were inept and did not know it was going on), the government has undertaken “the most massive attack against free speech in United States history.” That was the conclusion reached by a federal judge in “Missouri v. Biden.” Judge Terry Doughty was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2018 on a 98-0 vote. The judge is a brave and serious man who has performed significant pro bono work to help youth break away from illicit drug use and has served as a deacon in his church. He is not going to be easily cowed. The “Missouri v. Biden” case exposed the incredible lengths to which the Biden White House and its federal agencies have gone to bully social media platforms into removing political views they dislike.
      “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the free acts of speech.” – George Washington, March 15, 1783

  10. I find it funny we’re preaching free speech, but my comment on a previous article was deleted. Presumably because you didn’t like what was said.

    I would love to engage with this conversation, but Guy really isn’t open to considering opposing views even if he says he invites debates. His mockery of Pseudonyms and then telling the person who had their name published to switch to decaf, proves it. He can’t make a point on topic without attacking the person. I guess free speech doesn’t apply to anonymous comments despite what the editorial says.

    1. Guy isn’t in charge of what comments are deleted, so don’t blame him.

      I’ve deleted one comment in the past week. It was two words long, one of which was a profanity. If this insightful analysis was yours, I’m sorry to have deprived the audience of that precious pearl of wisdom. We are happy to allow comments that disagree with the author’s position, but middle-school-level insults don’t make the reading experience better for anyone.

      1. Kyle thanks for your insightful quip. However, that was not me. Your attempt to dig at me if I was the commenter mentioned or use it as a passive aggressive way to let the real commenter know it was you, is a weird way to flex. Perhaps maybe you should moderate yourself like you do the others.

  11. Pseudonyms are sometimes necessary. I was a public school teacher. I didn’t publish or comment in any publication for 32 years. We were advised that if we made our political opinions public or our opinions about the school district public that the administration could retaliate against us. You might find yourself “floating” that is, teaching in one building 1st and 2nd period, driving to the other end of the district to another building for 4th and 5th period, and eating lunch in your car as you drove back to the first building where you would finish your day 7th and 8th period. We opine the lack of rigor in our public school curriculum but that wasn’t the fault of teachers. Many teachers voiced their concerns about the diluted content but those concerns had to remain in-house. I did not publish any poetry, essays, or short stories because I feared some one from the community might complain that I violated their community standard. Stay below the radar was always good advice. Anonymity is a way to do that.

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