Mark Steyn takes note of an outrageous event in Germany – satirist writes an insulting poem about Turkey’s President, German government decides to prosecute the guy under an obscure law which prohibits insulting heads of State:
…A free society does not threaten a guy with years in gaol for writing a poem. If you don’t know that that’s wrong, you should just cut to the chase and appoint yourself mutasarrıfa of Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman sanjak of Berlin.
What a disgraceful person (Merkel) is, the worst German chancellor since …well, I don’t want to go all Godwin’s this early in the piece. But a few years ago, when Maclean’s and I had our triple-jeopardy difficulties with the Canadian “Human Rights” Commission, the Ontario “Human Rights” Commission and the British Columbia “Human Rights” Tribunal, the response of many of my fellow Canadians to the eventual outcome was along the lines of: “Well, I don’t know what Steyn was making such a fuss about. The process played itself out and he was acquitted. So the system worked.”
Some of these people were genuine innocents who’ve never been caught up in a time-consuming seven-figure legal battle before. But many others were making the argument cynically. They know that, if you can tie up a book or a magazine article in court, then there will be fewer books and magazine articles…
As Steyn says, “the process is the punishment”. Now, in the United States our Founders wrote the First Amendment and so it is vastly more difficult to erect speech-suppressing “human rights laws” as they have in the rest of the Western world…but even here in the United States people self-censor in order to just be sure they won’t be the target of a howling mob of Progressive Social Justice Warriors. Remember, one ill-advised Tweet and you can lose your job – but even if you prevail, who wants to put up with that? Better to just keep silent.
It is time to put a bit of teeth into the First Amendment. I suggest a Free Speech Restoration Act.
1. No employer shall in any way sanction an employee for any act of speech made outside of work time. Religious bodies may terminate an employee for acts of speech which deny any of the clearly expressed dogmas of the religious body.
2. Social media companies which allow the exposure of private phone numbers and addresses without a person’s consent may be held liable for civil damages.
3. Persons who spread false statements about private individuals may be held liable for civil damages. Social media companies must provide relevant information upon court order to identify any person who may have spread false statements about a private individual. Private individuals for the purposes of this law are persons who are not an officer of a corporation, an elected or appointed official of government, an employee of a government agency or the employee of any news media entity.
4. Congress shall appropriate a sum not less than $5 billion per year to provide free legal representation to any citizen who needs such representation in order to recover damages resulting from actions taken by employers, social media companies or persons who in any way sanction or cause sanctions to be applied to a citizen for acts of speech. Private individuals who are accused of spreading false information are also entitled to free legal representation.
That should do it. The most important thing is that you can’t lose your job over what you say outside your job. While at work, you do have to toe your employer’s line and if you don’t like it, you can find other employment…but once you clock out, you can say whatever you please and there is nothing your employer can do about it. This, in and of itself, would cure most of the self-censoring which goes on. The second important thing is to provide economic sinews for those who are victims of mob action for stating unpopular opinions…and the fact that such sinews exist, once a few examples are made, would greatly curb social justice mobs. And by excluding those who are in power from protection under this law, everyone is still free to go after the powerful with gusto.
We on the right have a vested interest in this. On the whole, we don’t engage in activity which seeks to suppress anyone’s speech. The left, of course, makes it their business to shut up everyone they disagree with. If we don’t swiftly find some means of ensuring our right to speak, then soon we won’t be able to speak, at all. And I think such a law could garner popular support – certainly the legal industry won’t be against it! But the basic concept of privacy and not lying about other people will be in line with general American ideas of what is right and just. All we have to do is find a candidate who would be willing to run with it.