Do we have free speech?

Published 10:09 am Friday, August 24, 2012

Americans who are shaking their heads over a Russian judge’s decision to jail three young women because of a political protest might want to ask themselves how the punk rock trio would have been treated in the United States. With both major political parties’ presidential conventions nearing, our country is preparing its own limits on free speech.

As has become the norm in the United States, security officials are preparing to establish so-called “free speech zones” at a distance from the Republican National Convention starting Monday in Tampa, Fla., and from the Democratic National Convention starting Sept. 3 in Charlotte, N.C. The zones are designed to keep shouted protests and other demonstrations away from the conventions and their delegates in the name of security. The federal government is said to have provided $50 million for convention security in the two cities.

While it’s fine to make safety a priority, American free speech advocates have pointed out that our entire nation is supposed to be a free speech zone and that it’s a remarkably Orwellian twisting of the term to create fenced enclosures in which free speech may take place. And many have pointed out that if security is the only consideration, there are ways to achieve it without fencing away those who disagree with a convention’s politics. It seems particularly ironic that conventions at which delegates (and candidates) will stand up to boast of their dedication to liberty will also provide examples of sharp limits on the First Amendment.

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Before concerning themselves with Russia’s actions against a trio of protesters, Americans should pay some attention to whether speech here is indeed as free as the framers of the Constitution intended.