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August 29, 2017

Free Speech or Not?

What role do governments and private companies play in allowing people to say what they want?

It seems that in America we have reached a whole new level of absurdity. There are so many unimaginable things occurring in our country that it should cause each one of us to ponder what our nation will be like in the years ahead — and fight to make it better. The freedoms that Americans have enjoyed since our founding have been tremendously eroded, and it appears that, for the foreseeable future, more freedom will be lost unless we stop those who would take it.

Free speech is under vicious attack yet again, this time from both the private sector and government. Before we elaborate, however, we should note that the First Amendment protection of free speech applies to government, not business or private entities. In other words, while the government may not quash free speech, a company or individual has no such obligation to allow it, much less provide the platform for it.

That said, last week, Matthew Prince, co-founder and CEO of Cloudflare, a global network that makes internet applications faster and protects them from cyberattacks, pulled the plug on one of the company’s customers. In the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville, a website called the Daily Stormer made some extremely vile and hateful comments about Heather Heyer, the woman murdered by the sociopath with a car.

The Daily Stormer website is a favorite for white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Cloudflare’s main purpose is to protect websites, including the Daily Stormer, from being hacked, regardless of the viewpoints that are expressed on those websites. In short, Cloudflare prided itself in remaining neutral on political stances and, up until this point, speech was of no concern as to whether they would provide services. Go Daddy and Google likewise shut down The Daily Stormer, and other such vile websites have lost their web hosts or domain names.

Since then the CEO of Cloudflare has had second thoughts about his decision to stop providing his company’s services to the Daily Stormer. His reasoned that his company is in business to prevent cyberattacks, not to deny people the freedom to say what they want. Granted the Daily Stormer website had numerous vile comments and content within, but Prince believes that what he did may have set a dangerous precedent. He aptly noted, “The First Amendment doesn’t compel private companies to let anyone broadcast on their platforms.” While this is true, looking at it another way, should one individual or group of individuals be allowed to deny someone from saying what they want to? The Internet is a particularly unique platform, after all.

One might say Prince must be losing a lot of business and that he’s now trying to sit on both sides of the fence.

By contrast, the state of California — the government — has gone the extra mile with its efforts to limit free speech. A bill punishing speech recently passed the state senate and is now under consideration in the general assembly. This bill would make it a crime to call someone by a pronoun with which they don’t identify. Yes, you read that right — if this bill passes it would be a crime to refer to a woman as a “she” if she “identifies” as a “he,” or vice versa. If the bill becomes law, the penalty for observing such hateful and offensive things as the gender assigned at birth would be a fine of up to $1,000 and up to one year in jail.

This is, of course, beyond absurd, and California lawmakers have reached the death of reason with this one. Common sense is a thing of the past. It should be quite interesting to see what kind of court cases will be heard in the months ahead, and we can only surmise that this will exacerbate the exodus from California.

Ironically, this same state that wants to ban people from calling a transgender person the “wrong” pronoun has few qualms about the fascists laughably calling themselves anti-fascists (antifa, for short) and other Marxist groups physically attacking Trump supporters because of their speech. To be clear, antifa, Black Lives Matter, Nazis, and all other groups for that matter have the right to peacefully protest whatever they wish. But when the protest turns from speaking freely into violent assaults against an opposing group, then it is no longer free speech and it is not protected by the First Amendment. They are committing a crime and should be jailed. That includes those defacing and destroying historical monuments.

Yet no less than the mayor of Berkeley, Jesse Arreguin, essentially threatened that if the fascists can’t silence speech they don’t like, there may be trouble.

Have we really reached the point that people cannot argue or protest another person for fear of being offended or assaulted? And have we reached the point where a state government or a private industry can control what one says? George Orwell’s book “1984” was supposed to be fantasy, but it seems that this classic fiction has now become reality.

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