Freedom of Speech Not Just for the Powerful

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), January 20, 2012 | Go to article overview

Freedom of Speech Not Just for the Powerful


Byline: Don Kahle For The Register-Guard

Shopping for an anniversary gift is always harder the second year than the first. Any romance still can have a warm glow after 12 months. The second year begins what my friend Dan calls "the dirty sock era." Certain things that always were odorous begin to stink. It's just how it goes.

As with romance, so with law.

The United States Supreme Court handed down a ruling two years ago today that freed corporations to spend unlimited amounts for political campaigns. Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission extended the concept of corporate personhood and unleashed vast new sources for campaign financing.

After one year, couples celebrate their "paper" anniversary. The second year's gift is supposed to be cotton.

A year ago, Citizens United may have looked good on paper, at least to some. This year, voters may be reaching for cotton to stick in their ears.

Disgust with Citizens United is what seems to have united citizens. Tea party activists decry the loss of personal freedoms, and the Occupy Wall Street crowd bemoans the corporate greed. Some have matched this ruling with the Supreme Court's Dred Scott vs. Sandford - as a pair of dirty socks.

That 1857 ruling stated that slaves were not entitled to the inalienable rights for which this country declared its independence. Dred Scott declared certain persons to be nonpersons. Citizens United declared certain nonpersons to be persons. The Dred Scott Decision precipitated our Civil War. How the current uproar will be resolved remains to be seen.

Freedom of speech was clearly top of mind when this nation's Bill of Rights was constructed. It's in the document's first sentence, after freedom of religion and before freedom of assembly. Freedom of speech must not be abridged.

Does that freedom more rightfully belong to the "power of the people" or to the "people of power?" The Supreme Court may have done the nation a favor, by arranging a shotgun wedding between capitalism and democracy. If the two cannot be joined lawfully after more than a century of sleeping together, now would be a good time to find out.

Occupy Wall Street crowds peaceably assembled in cities across the country to exercise their free speech right, and how did authorities react? …

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