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home : most recent : statewide implications June 18, 2018


5/31/2018 6:31:00 PM
COMMENTARY: Forget Roseanne. Here are 3 actual threats to free speech

Jon Webb, Evansville Courier & Press Columnist

Very few people understand the First Amendment.

That’s my jolly conclusion after absorbing the inferno-hot takes piling up since “Roseanne” – that blue-collar juggernaut with Evansville ties – was canceled on Tuesday after its star, Roseanne Barr, compared former Barack Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett, a black woman, to an ape.

That crossed the line for ABC, which thought it was A-OK for Barr to be a 9/11 truther and believe the Boston Marathon was a false-flag attack.

The response from Roseanne’s supporters has been what it always is after someone gets punished for saying something stupid: “The First Amendment is under attack!”

For the infinity-th time: the First Amendment only protects you from government censorship and has never once, in the history of America, shielded you from consequences. And since Roseanne will spend the rest of her days living in a mansion and tweeting whatever she pleases, as opposed to rotting away in a CIA black site prison, I think she’ll be fine.

But in a weird way, Roseanne’s supporters are right. The First Amendment is often attacked. It just has nothing to do with the star of “Look Who’s Talking, Too.”  

If you’d like to get angry about the suppression of speech, here are several actual examples.

Voter suppression

Gerrymandering is a huge problem in Indiana. Since Republicans redrew congressional districts in 2010, the GOP has gone on to win 70 out of 100 seats in the House and 41 out of 50 Senate seats.

“We are a Republican state, but we’re not an 80 percent Republican state,” Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indianatold me last year

When Democrats were in charge, they drew themselves into House advantages for eight years between 2000 and 2010.

But neither state legislators nor Attorney General Curtis Hill seem to care. Hill has argued in favor of gerrymandering, and state legislators refused to do anything about itlast year.

Elsewhere, legislators are dumping on the Constitution in even more egregious ways. An Indy Star investigation found that state and local lawmakers have extended early voting opportunities in Republican-dominated areas such as Hamilton County while shrinking it in Democrat-heavy Marion County.

Public comment

Earlier this year, Evansville City Councilor Michelle Mercer mused that, technically, there’s no state law forcing the council to allow public comment at meetings.

That line of thought was shot down by her fellow councilors before it went any further.

"All hell would break loose if we didn’t allow people to speak," at-large councilor H. Dan Adams said.

But currently, City Council limits public comments to three minutes – a small window of time that’s often cut into by interrupting councilors and a talkative audience.

Councilor Justin Elpers tried to extend commenters’ time to unlimited – and found support from Connie Robertson and John Hayden – but the council ultimately voted it down.

The executive branch

We’re all aware of President Donald Trump’s attempts to stifle the free press. Some of his acolytes are even worse. The National Rifle Association recently took to Twitter to ask Congress to pass a law limiting the press’ ability to report on mass shootings.

But it ain’t all Trump’s team. Not even close. President Obama’s administration vigorously prosecuted leakers. According to the New York Times, it even spied on journalists. And Hillary Clinton’s PR team was about as friendly to the press as an angry chihuahua ripping into a throw pillow.  

All of us – conservative, liberal and Whig alike – only worry about free speech when we agree with the speech in question. We all pretend like it’s a sacrosanct thing, but the only time we get up in arms about the First Amendment is when we willfully misunderstand it.

Copyright 2018 Journal Media Group. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.






Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR


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