POLITICAL CENSORSHIP: A helpful guide to whether or not it’s happening to you

Hello, friend! If you are often stricken with uncertainty regarding whether your constitutional First Amendment right to free speech is being infringed upon, you’re not alone! Many people appear to be confused by the question, and to be sure, it is a complicated one! Here is the actual text of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America:

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.

This text might seem simple, but don’t be misled! There is often no real way to be sure whether you personally are being subjected to the evil that is political censorship. However, here are some questions to ask yourself that might serve to point you in the right direction.

If you want to say something controversial and/or offensive, is it possible that you will be:

  1. Arrested?
  2. Imprisoned?
  3. Tortured by governmental authorities, either state-level or federal?
  4. Killed by same?

If you want to write something controversial and/or offensive, is it possible that your writing will be:

  1. Confiscated and/or destroyed by state authorities?
  2. Edited by same without your permission?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, congratulations! Your right to free speech under the constitution is being infringed upon. You should make a Thing out of it, because it’s a very bad thing. However, there are numerous other ways in which your First Amendment rights might be infringed upon! So be sure to actually read the fucking constitution so you have some idea of what you’re talking about before you open your enormous gaping stupid-hole of a mouth.

Or just look at Wikipedia for God’s sake. You utter jackass.

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11 responses to “POLITICAL CENSORSHIP: A helpful guide to whether or not it’s happening to you

  1. Will Shetterly

    I strongly recommend reading the ACLU’s “What is censorship?” Here’s a bit from it:

    “Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the government is unconstitutional.

    “In contrast, when private individuals or groups organize boycotts against stores that sell magazines of which they disapprove, their actions are protected by the First Amendment, although they can become dangerous in the extreme. Private pressure groups, not the government, promulgated and enforced the infamous Hollywood blacklists during the McCarthy period. But these private censorship campaigns are best countered by groups and individuals speaking out and organizing in defense of the threatened expression.”

  2. Will: Right. What I’m talking about is specified very nicely in that statement. The issue here is not private organizations curating their own content according to their definitions of what is or is not appropriate. You can define that as “censorship”, if you want, though I’ll sort of laugh at you anyway. The issue here is “censorship” as it gets talked about too often when private organizations do this kind of content curating and control, *which they have the right to do* – which is to say, it gets conflated with violations of the First Amendment.

    Which it isn’t. That’s why I made sure to specify this as a particular kind of censorship.

    If people want to whine about a private organization doing what it can totally do, that’s cool. But they should leave the constitution out of it, because it has no place there.

    In any case, what sparked this – the current SFWA petition dust-up – isn’t even close to approaching McCarthyism, so again with the laughing-at.

  3. Has anyone claimed this sort of thing involves the First Amendment? You seemed to be trying to avoid a simple truth: Censorship is censorship, whether it’s legal or not.

    As for the mocking, as Gandhi noted, it’s a standard tactic. I tend to think that the tactics of groups like creationists leave a lot to be desired, but no big. When all you have is mockery, I s’pose you gotta mock.

  4. Did you, like, read the first version of the thing? Or the second? Because if you did and you didn’t see where the First Amendment is *explicitly cited as being in the center of the problem*, I literally cannot help you with your reading comprehension problems. I’m an educator by trade, but dude. No.

  5. I’m not going back to the second version, which is the relevant one, but I will note that for 200 years, we’ve been expanding the definition of the First Amendment, thanks to groups like the ACLU. I find that inspiring. So I might point to the First Amendment as an example of what I believe, even though I know that it doesn’t apply in all cases. First Amendment battles and legal censorship battles often are fought in parallel–what’s legal at public schools can be forbidden at private schools, but the private schools run by people who love the First Amendment will act as though the First Amendment applied to them.

    For example, here’s the president of Tufts: “While Tufts is a private institution and not technically bound by First Amendment guarantees, it is my intention to govern as President as if we were. To put it another way, I believe that students, faculty, and staff should enjoy the same rights to freedom of expression at Tufts as they would if they attended or worked at a public university….During the McCarthy era, a number of university presidents in the United States failed to defend the principle of expression. Students, faculty, and stuff paid for this equivocation as the government sought to purge University campuses of those expressing particularly unpopular opinions. We must be vigilant in defending individual liberties even if it means that from time to time we must tolerate speech that violates our standards of civility and respect.”

  6. One of these things is not like the others,
    One of these things just doesn’t belong,
    Can you tell which thing is not like the others
    By the time I finish my song?

    One of the great things about this being my site is that I get to exercise horrifically Orwellian censorship against people I don’t wish to comment here, for whatever reason I care to have. So congrats, Will! For not arguing in good faith and for being generally obnoxious, you’re banninated.

  7. This does not rise to the level of governmental censorship, but there is a problem when an organization dedicated to one purpose begins policing unrelated opinions. It may not be illegal for my employer to fire me, or professional organization expel me, for an article I write for or against (say) gun restriction—but I hope you agree it would be inappropriate of them to do so.

    But that’s about activity unrelated to the organization, so let’s consider this example: If i were to submit to an engineering journal an article about engineering challenges specific to gun manufacture, or about a trigger lock that prevented gun resale, and this article was rejected not for technical reasons but because of the anti-/pro-gun political leanings of the editor—would this be acceptable behavior, or grounds for complaints by membership?

  8. Joel: You might note that nowhere in this post do I talk about any of what you’re talking about. Didn’t intend to. Wasn’t especially interested in discussing it at all.

    But yeah, complain all you want. I haven’t seen anyone suggesting that no complaining should be allowed, just that said complaining is pretty ridiculous and also offensive, given the actual content of the complaints. The fact that said complaining is occurring at all is pretty illustrative of my overall point, dig?

  9. But what is my hypothetical engineer complaining of, if not censorship?

  10. Joel: There are lots of different kinds of censorship. I’m talking about one particular kind. It’s not your kind. I made that pretty clear in the comments above yours.

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