Defending our right to speak

June 25, 2011

Roger Freberg

OPINION By ROGER FREBERG

When I first set about to write this article, I was reminded about the many situations in which our free expression of ideas can land us in hot water. Exercising your free speech is not without personal cost; all one has to do is look at the history of those who signed the Declaration of Independence to see what costs were paid. Here’s a quote on the fate of those who signed. Of those who lived, most lost almost everything:

“Of those 56 who signed the Declaration of Independence, nine died of wounds or hardships during the war. Five were captured and imprisoned, in each case with brutal treatment. Several lost wives, sons or entire families. One lost his 13 children. Two wives were brutally treated. All were at one time or another the victims of manhunts and driven from their homes. Twelve signers had their homes completely burned. Seventeen lost everything they owned.”

Today, many workplaces, private or public, have various restrictions that can result in your legal termination based on what you may say, write or post about your workplace. It may seem very noble to be a whistle blower, but often the protections – if any – are cursory. Free speech takes courage or at least an alias.

Free speech is also not necessarily cherished in our social gatherings, unless one is amongst liked minded people. Social tact and discretion help temper or censor our strong opinions in public settings. So, if we feel constrained at work and in many social situations from exercising our free speech, when are we really free to speak? Obviously, the answer is ‘anytime,’ but we should know the risks big and little. Many folks have lost friends when talking about money, religion or politics; however, one has to wonder what kind of friends they were to start with?

The challenge for all of us is to speak up when the need arises. Defending your child against the arbitrary punishments of a teacher should be no different than standing up to repressive elected officials hell-bent on raising your taxes just because they can. To make things better for all of us in the long run, we need people to voice their genuine concerns publicly.

The First Amendment

When I was growing up, two of the requirements of my middle school education were to memorize the ‘Declaration of Independence’ and the ‘Bill of Rights.’ The first amendment to the constitution is on ‘free speech:’

“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.”

The history of the development of this amendment had as much to do with protecting various out-of-power political parties from arrest for treason as it had to do with protecting the individual. William Blackstone in ‘Commentaries on the Laws of England’ (1769) said, “Every freeman has an undoubted right to lay what sentiments he pleases before the public…” Interestingly enough, the ‘freedom of religion’ section was added late in the process, which tells me that even in a very religious America, the right to speak freely was highly cherished.

However, the concern today — as well in the beginning — was the threat of government ‘censure.’ Way back then, governments would ‘license’ newspapers to print and their license would be revoked if the King didn’t like what was written and it was treasonous to speak against the king. You can imagine what limited reading was available.

The FREE internet

Although we are told that various political entities have a ‘kill switch’ on the internet and some countries have restricted or taken the internet ‘private’ (like Iran), the internet has given the average person a window on the world and current events as they happen that was only available – in the past – to the privileged few. Knowledge is power after all and elitists don’t like to share. Senator Jay Rockefeller made a widely distributed statement that gets to the heart – I believe — of elitist angst:

“It really almost makes you ask the question would it have been better if we had never invented the internet,” —  Senator Jay Rockefeller

So, as long as we have a sort of ‘free’ internet, we all have a chance to decide for ourselves what we think of the world and events as they play out. Let’s make sure this never changes.

40th Anniversary of Cohen vs. California

Free speech often has unusual champions, as exemplified in the landmark case of Cohen vs. California that is celebrating 40 years today. Samantha Harris of F.I.R.E. (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) writes:

“Indeed, FIRE frequently cites Cohen when writing to universities that have charged students with disciplinary offenses for using profanity or other offensive but protected speech. Among other things, the Court’s recognition that “one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric” has proven an important defense against universities’ attempts to prohibit speech simply because it offends the sensibilities of others.”

As David Hudson of the First Amendment Center notes, “Cohen v. California is an important case to be celebrated whenever we reflect on the crucial importance of the First Amendment in our free society.”
Anti-SLAPP Suit

Guys with deep pockets no longer fit you with cement overshoes, they just take away your money through litigation. Few of us, other than the legendary three families of San Luis Obispo County” have the resources to fight back long term. However, if you do not contest a litigation, you lose pure and simple.

A SLAPP suit is “a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) … that is intended to censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.”

The California Anti-Slapp project says the following: “While most SLAPPs are legally meritless, they can effectively achieve their principal purpose: to chill public debate on specific issues. Defending a SLAPP requires substantial money, time, and legal resources, and thus diverts the defendant’s attention away from the public issue. Equally important, however, a SLAPP also sends a message to others: you, too, can be sued if you speak up.”

If you win your anti-SLAPP suit you probably will recoup your attorney fees. Additionally, you may have grounds to counter sue and that’s when –potentially- the other guy could pay big.

“Going to the Mattresses”

Most men know this expression as well as they know where a quarterback places his hands. It’s from the ‘Godfather.’ It means that if you find yourself in a free speech fight, then fight to win.

The first freedom a society can lose is to lose the right to speak freely and openly. If we lose this right, then everything is gone.

Roger Freberg is a San Luis Obispo resident who is using his retirement to write a culinary-inspired blog, comment on important local events and occasionally enjoy getting sued for his journalistic excellence.


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28 Comments

  1. willie says:

    Without the First Amendment, no one can learn or learn from their mistakes.
    There are consequence or effects exercising the First Amendment.
    Those who are among good council are fortunate in their learning and growth.

    (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down
  2. justme says:

    I should add that not only gov’t but any entity with deep pockets filled with money and/or power can become predatory and do so increasingly in a crumbling system……..like ours seems to be in the process of.

    (3) 7 Total Votes - 5 up - 2 down
    • r0y says:

      Ah, but is the system is crumbling because of predatory deep pockets… I don’t think the system crumbled on its own and spawned predatory entities.

      Man is corrupt. Ironically, it’s the whole Garden of Eden story. Man fallen from grace, becomes mortal and corrupt. We see it throughout our history, and even big religion is not exempt from mankind’s corruption. That is what most people miss, should they decide to personally attack something. (btw: not implying you did, just as an in-general remark).

      +1

      (4) 4 Total Votes - 4 up - 0 down
      • willie says:

        rOy
        Man is not only corrupt but deluded.
        No one or team of governement or private expert can find the correct focus to warp us out of this mess.
        Those vowing reform resort to taxation, causing inflation as a short term solution for sake of our children vs long term kicking the can down the road for sake of our grand children, how brilliant are these great leaders?
        The private sector expert say it is going to take 10 to 20 years for stability, I am 62 and may not have the time to ever see it. OH F/THEM (ALL OF THEM), I have my own solution!

        (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down
    • zaphod says:

      The Kochtopus!

      (-2) 4 Total Votes - 1 up - 3 down
    • willie says:

      With all the money in circulation and this pending 14.5 trillion in debt debt ceiling rise, I wander if we have enough paper, nickel, copper, and zinc to print new money or smaller size money, or is most of the money electronic money?
      And if they do print, could tiolet tissue one day be more valuable than money? Grant it, Government and society cannot move without currency. (Approximately 10 years to stability and the SOS starts again)

      (4) 4 Total Votes - 4 up - 0 down
      • r0y says:

        I heard that the physical currency (US dollars) that exists is around the 800 billion mark. All the rest is digital. Welcome to fractional reserve, centralized banking.

        (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down
        • justme says:

          Shhhh, it’s supposed to be a secret that the Federal reserve is a foreign entity in reality and they just sacked our financial system by transferring our wealth into their pockets.
          For every dollar you put into a lender’s control they are allowed to print and lend nine out using your one dollar for collateral.
          Banks and Wall st. are the supreme international power and your American kids are used to fight and die (and kill innocents) to perpetuate their scam.
          Obama is their plant, Rahm Emanuel is his boss, the banking and Wall st. elite of the world are his. What’s new? Who are they? Ask Greenspan, Douglas Feith, who started the ’03 Iraq war or the people who created and operate Homeland Security, the IMF and World Bank. Don’t forget the major media’s guiding hands.
          Wakeup folks, you overslept while your country, home equity and savings were being tapped.

          (4) 4 Total Votes - 4 up - 0 down
  3. justme says:

    Yeah, he can get long and dry but the message is to watch out, the coming collapse (it’s here now) will spawn ugliness from Gov’t @ all levels as they struggle to survive. Resist and it’s off to financial ruin, jail or worse we may go if they deem it necessary . You know, like always happens when countries are conquered and in this case international banking cartels and Wall Streeters looted us.
    Correct me if I’m wrong, Roger.

    (11) 15 Total Votes - 13 up - 2 down
  4. rogerfreberg says:

    I always enjoy reading the comments, especially those who like to say they stopped reading me…. obviously, they can’t stop. STOP! STOP! STOP! heh heh!

    THIS JUST IN: “Dutch populist politician Geert Wilders was acquitted of inciting hatred of Muslims in a court ruling on Thursday that may strengthen his political influence…” (looks like the europeans are finally getting it!)

    The real issue here is that ‘some folks’ don’t want certain points of view to see the light of day and that should be troubling for everyone… these folks are hoping to become the new would-be censors deciding what is ‘racist’, ‘hate speech’, ‘offensive’ or just plain ‘wrong’ (whatever that means).

    In any event, I have never ‘pretended’ to offer a ‘balanced” or moderate point of view on anything … I find people who equivocate bore me. Yes, I do have a ‘slant’ … I do value other ‘opinions’ and points of view… and I have changed my opinions when I find something more useful… but being argumentative is not a point of view, my friends.

    Let me address this to the tax bunnies out there… I spent a glorious week in Florida… outside of the wonderful sunny beaches and warm water, it has far less of what we have so much of…. TAXES. Now, admittedly they have had to pull in their horns a bit as the sluggish economy hasn’t completely missed them… but they have something we don’t… a vibrant economy, low taxes and a positive outlook on life. By the way, raising taxes gets passed along… I went to a superior restaurant there on the beach of Ft. Lauderdale… the food was exquisite and the price was — relative to what we have experienced here in California… very inexpensive. When you can make as much money there as here and keep more of it… life is a bit sweeter.

    If –as one poster — said, we have ‘corruption’ in government, then we need to address that first… raising taxes to cover government waste is not the answer.

    Funny how the first amendment can still generate controversy… I am glad we STILL have it.

    (10) 20 Total Votes - 15 up - 5 down
    • bobfromsanluis says:

      Roger: The funny thing is I actually agree with most of what you wrote; yes, the First Amendment IS very important and one can definitely “pay a price” for expressing their viewpoint (one reason why I still use an alias, even though my name really is Bob). I also agree that whistleblowers need more protection in both private industry AND government positions; we just seem to disagree with who should be demonized. Roger, it seems like you have the lowest of opinions possible of those who choose to run for elected office and/or those who are employed in government work; that’s okay, it is your right to have your opinion and to express it. I, on the other hand, have a very low opinion of the very wealthy that push their agenda to pay less and less taxes, demand special treatment in how they are treated with regard to government services and generally avoid any responsibility for their impact on the rest of society. I’m glad that you enjoyed your trip to Florida, but their governor will most likely not survive his entire term as he really should have been arrested for Medicare fraud, preferring to take the fifth amendment 75 times during testimony, and his guidance of Florida is driving the state towards the same financial position that California is currently in. Yes, my comments have a slant, because it is my opinion that I am stating, just as you state yours; the difference that I see is that I have no illusions that I am trying to be fair and/or balanced as you seem to attempt to be in your writings here on Cal Coast News, and that is why I call it out.

      (-4) 16 Total Votes - 6 up - 10 down
      • r0y says:

        I am weary of people who claim they have no illusions, especially when they imply others have them.

        (4) 14 Total Votes - 9 up - 5 down
      • willie says:

        Bob I use an Alias too
        I like shooting from the hip even if I error, and made some errors and learned from it.
        I chose to remain annoymous because with a right mind “trying most of the time but I get emotional” I post with universal concerns and sincerety and NOT seeking glory, you will never know who I am.
        All you need to know is I care (and being human, I make errors)!
        This place I love, this place is where my children are born, this place I will protect until I can’t.
        Raise the conscience and heart as you have been doing, this is where the quality of a community is!

        (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down
      • willie says:

        Oh Typo, don’t hesitate to stick it to me when you disagree
        I love your corrections!

        (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down
  5. Typoqueen says:

    oops that was supposed to be addressed to Fedup.

    (-9) 13 Total Votes - 2 up - 11 down
  6. bobfromsanluis says:

    As usual, Roger writes a pretty good article, but just can’t seem to help himself by injecting his political viewpoint into his article, to-wit: “Defending your child against the arbitrary punishments of a teacher should be no different than standing up to repressive elected officials hell-bent on raising your taxes just because they can.” That statement sounds to me just like a Grover Norquist talking point; ever consider that perhaps “some” taxes need to raised because our financial house is in a complete mess due to continually putting off new fees and taxes?(as well as fraud and corruption in politics; I know, shocking isn’t it?) And to the point about whistleblower protection being too weak; most of those in the business community (and in government) that contribute to politicians and lobby groups actually prefer that whistleblower protection continue to be “weak” so those that do uncover fraud/waste/deception don’t impact the “bottom line” ( or uncover political hanky-panky). Roger, keep writing your articles, but please don’t fool yourself into believing that you don’t have a particular “slant” to your writings.

    (-12) 22 Total Votes - 5 up - 17 down
    • Typoqueen says:

      bob, you deserve a medal for even reading through another of Roger’s rants. You are a very diplomatic person, you’d make a good politician. I only opened this article to see what others (like you) posted. Roger is the kind of guy that thrives on attention and he likes the sound of his voice. I won’t play into that, but it’s always nice reading your posts.

      (-9) 23 Total Votes - 7 up - 16 down
      • Citizen says:

        Why would you go out of your way to attack Roger. Talk about someone that “thrives on attention and likes the sound of their voice”, look in the mirror. If you disagree with his philosophy, then don’t read his articles.

        (14) 20 Total Votes - 17 up - 3 down
        • slomike says:

          I have stopped reading them, too. I’m with Typoqueen.

          (-9) 19 Total Votes - 5 up - 14 down
          • racket says:

            And yet you are here posting.

            When *I* stop caring about something, I set it down and walk away. Those of you who still read the Fibune might notice that there has not been a racket in the comments section there for more than a year. Because I don’t read it and I don’t get involved in it.

            I am calling “shenanigans” on you, slomike.

            (8) 12 Total Votes - 10 up - 2 down
          • Typoqueen says:

            slomike, I came over here to see what others posted. If Roger posted one-liners or a short paragraph then I might waste a few seconds reading his posts. But life is too short to waste on more than a few seconds of Roger.

            Citizen, I do enjoy reading and responding to others, that is why I came here. I usually don’t even open Rogers rants anymore but I was bored although not bored enough to read his editorial. If I liked the sound of my own voice then I would also write 20 paragraph editorials to CNN. I don’t go out of my way to attack Roger but I don’t back down from him either. Roger is one of maybe 3 posters here that I really dislike as a person not just on political levels but I don’t like him and there’s very few people that I simply don’t like. I wouldn’t worry about me attacking Roger, he’s no shrinking violet, he can’t get through a post without attacking someone. In Roger’s mind he’s a manly man , I’m sure he’ll be fine

            (-10) 14 Total Votes - 2 up - 12 down
            • Citizen says:

              Your reply can be characterized as “Full of sound and fury; signifying nothing”.

              (5) 9 Total Votes - 7 up - 2 down
    • r0y says:

      What’s that word in ALL CAPS just before Roger’s name in the “by line” up there? Oh yeah, it’s OPINION. Silly of Roger to “inject” his political viewpoint into an opinion piece he is writing.

      Maybe he should inject yours? Oh wait, it’s ROGER’S OPINION, not bob’s….

      (15) 19 Total Votes - 17 up - 2 down
    • willie says:

      Without the First Amendment, no one can learn or learn from their mistakes.

      (6) 6 Total Votes - 6 up - 0 down
  7. Fedup says:

    As usual Roger is right on. I hope the Moderator of this site takes heed of this article, but I doubt it.

    (11) 19 Total Votes - 15 up - 4 down
    • Moderator says:

      I hope Fedup reads and take heed of the comment guidelines, and send email instead of derailing the commentary. (the moderator is not the story)
      I personally wish Roger would use more html to embed links to the interesting information in his pieces.
      Carry on.

      (5) 5 Total Votes - 5 up - 0 down

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