Preserving a Right

A request to sign a petition from Brigade + Causes hit my mailbox yesterday that raised my eyebrows. “Sign the petition to #fireColbert” read the subject line. The opening of the petition says: “Stephen Colbert finally took it too far with a disgustingly lewd anti-Trump rant on The Late Show on CBS.”

The author of the petition was sufficiently offended by Colbert’s monologue from last week that the author initiated the movement. In fact, he closed his appeal by saying, “This is certainly within Colbert’s right to free speech, but the networks should strive for a higher level of decency. This isn’t comedy. It’s just disgusting and offensive.” Apparently the FCC was also alarmed at the language used in the monologue.

However, we need to ask ourselves in what way did the Colbert monologue in question substantially differ from the many antics of #45 during his campaign. We also need to recognize that Colbert is in the entertainment business and relies on [Nielsen] ratings in order to keep his show on the air. Similarly, during the campaign, #45 was in several industries (including entertainment) and heavily relies (even now) on outlandish behavior for the sake of garnering ratings and attention. So where’s the difference? We also need to take into consideration that #45 was never called to task for any of his campaign behavior and was never penalized in any way. In fact, he was applauded. It’s difficult to understand why, in a post-Carlin’s “7 dirty words” environment that Colbert (or CBS for that matter) should suffer even a penalty.

Now, to be sure, it’s no secret that Colbert is not a fan of the 45th President. It’s safe to say there’s little evidence that he has ever had favorable feelings about #45.

It says a lot about what still remains of American freedoms that Colbert can express his political opinions during his monologue without being censored or have his way of life threatened. It’s called freedom of speech. True, there were objectionable words used in the body of the monologue but the blue language was bleeped from the speech. Even Colbert’s mouth was blurred when he pronounced certain words so that they could not be discerned and cause offense. Those were the instances when it went into territory not covered by Carlin’s “7 dirty words” but at least the freedom to express those feelings was in place.

Other TV hosts have also lampooned the First Family in this last week. It doesn’t appear any of those hosts are being called to task for doing their jobs while simultaneously pushing their audiences to engage in critical thinking or else express what their audiences fear to say aloud.

Likewise, the petition’s author has the freedom to express his distaste for the language – the language, mind you, not the thoughts and feelings owned by the speaker.

So, rather than endorse a return to Woodrow Wilson standards and suppression of one of our precious foundation rights, free speech, I will not sign that petition. Let us, without resorting to expletives and bullying, discuss and debate the policies of #45 and come up with solutions.

It appears both Colbert and the petition author have come up with a very meaningful topic for discussion as well as some meaningful tangents.

Unions and the First Amendment

We recently had a ruling come down from the Supreme Court in the case of Knox v. SEIU. The issues were analyzed in a YouTube video “The First Amendment and Knox v. SEIU (Trevor Burrus)” by a CATO specialist, Trevor Burrus. The case involves matters related to the First Amendment and free speech. Secondarily, it relates to how money deducted from a person’s union dues can be used with regard to political activities. And thirdly, it relates to the rights of nonunion members in regard to the fact that they have expressly opted out of being in the union and paying dues yet funds are being taken from their salaries for use in union political activities.

First of all, what is the First Amendment. It’s the section of the Bill of Rights that guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

The language of 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; OR THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE PEACEABLY TO ASSEMBLE, AND TO PETITION THE GOVERNMENT FOR A REDRESS OF GRIEVANCES.

American Library Association

What we find as we follow the CATO/Burrus analysis of this ruling is that nonunion members were being charged a fee for expressions that did not match their desires as well as represented funds they had expressly said they did not want to pay. In essence, they were not only paying for something they did not want, they were also paying to defeat their own interests.

For further information about the implications of rights under the First Amendment and freedom of expression, comments on the philosophical theories of freedom of expression can be found in Notes and analytic expressions on FindLaw.