This July 4, as we continue to celebrate the birth of our Nation long after the death of the document that created it — and as I sit down to write a few possibly patently offensive statements about that — I find it particularly appropriate that Tennessee has decided to go after one of the two remaining Amendments in the Bill of Rights that the United States Supreme Court has not yet seen fit to officially obliterate.
The State of Tennessee wants to make it illegal to have
obscene or patently offensive bumper stickers, window signs or other markings on their vehicle visible to other drivers
The State of Tennessee’s wrath, Tennessee would say, is directed not at freedom of speech, but at restricting obscene or “patently offensive” speech. Surely, Tennessee says, you don’t think that restricting people from making obscene or offensive statements counts as a restriction on freedom of speech. I mean, it’s not like we’re restricting people from making statements. The people remain free to speak whatever they want, so long as it isn’t something we don’t think they should be saying.
Something obscene. Or offensive.
Like maybe a law against speech?
Demonstrating why the United States Constitution needed a statement of the unalienable right to freedom of speech, one driver noted:
“If someone has a bumper sticker with nude photos on it that’s a different story,” he said. “I’m not going to worry about it. I am not going to put any obscene bumper stickers on my car.”
Yeah! It’s not my speech that’s being restricted, so I’m not going to worry about it. If the government wants to restrict someone else’s speech, more power to them.
No, really. More power to them.
And, by the way, there was nothing in the story to indicate that the legislation restricting freedom of speech was prompted by nude pictures. If it were a bumper sticker of nude pictures, that might, indeed, be a different story: it might not be speech.
The scariest part of the story, though, came from one of the co-sponsors of the bill:
In his opinion, Rep. Moore said the law does not violate any constitutional protections, including freedom of speech.
“When you get into crossing the line so to speak you do not have a right to impose your speech on other people,” he said.
That’s right. Moore thinks the law restricting speech doesn’t violate the constitutional prohibition on limiting freedom of speech. As Bunny Chafowitz interprets Moore,
He’s saying because you still have ‘freedom of inside thoughts’ it’s not a violation of your constitutional right. Your speech is completely protected, so long as you don’t say it out loud. Inside thoughts are completely protected; outside thoughts are the only ones restricted.
Why? Because when you’re saying something someone doesn’t want to hear, you’ve crossed the line. You simply do not have a right to say things that people don’t want to hear.
So if the government wants to stop you from saying things that some government official wouldn’t want to hear, then that shouldn’t count as a restriction on freedom of speech, right?
Or, to put it more colloquially, “Freedom of speech? F*ck freedom of speech!”
Happy Birthday, America.