Misconceptions about free speech

Eric Lanser

The First Amendment to the Constitution is perhaps the best known, most important, and most misunderstood of the limits on government written in the Bill of Rights.The misconception about it comes from the same source as other misconceptions about the Constitution. The error is forgetting that the Constitution is fundamentally a limit on government, not on private individuals.

The First Amendment reads, “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…”

That is, it says that the government will not pass a law prohibiting you from practicing the religion of your choice or inhibiting your freedom to say what you want.

The amendment does not guarantee that you will be able to practice your religion or to share your views.

That is, it does not guarantee you a trip to Mecca or that a church or temple will be built in your area. It does not guarantee you a megaphone, a radio station or a soapbox to speak from. It says that, if you can earn these things by your own effort, it will not stop you from using them peacefully, or allow others to stop you.

While the Jehovah’s witnesses have every right to attempt to spread their religion and views, they have no right to others’ property to do so.

For the same reason they cannot take my wages in order to publish newspaper ads, they cannot use my driveway to convert me, unless I give them permission. That is, their right to free speech does not take away my right to use my life and property as I see fit.

Most of the time, I don’t mind when people come to my door. However, some people do care. It is their right to refuse to allow strangers on their property without permission.

Far from protecting all of our rights, the Supreme Court cases that recently “expanded First Amendment protections” seek to violate them.