A First Amendment Guarantee

Besides the freedom of religion clauses of the First Amendment, there is another guarantee there that is threatened: freedom of speech. Now, we have, over the years, added some rather foggy ideas of what freedom of speech entails. It has been expanded to include coarse language that used to be avoided and artistic expressions that can only be legitimately described as obscene. That’s not what the Founders intended by the phrase “freedom of speech.”

For them, it was primarily freedom of political speech that needed protection. They wanted the guarantee that they had the liberty to critique government policies without fear of prosecution. Our new Congress, dominated by the Democrats and encouraged by their leadership, is toying with the notion of reviving something called the Fairness Doctrine.

This sounds innocuous enough. Who can be against fairness? In practice, though, it means that if anyone espouses strong conservative views on politics, the media have to provide a forum for the opposing view to be aired. Again, while this may sound “fair,” one needs to consider that the media is already overwhelmingly liberal and no similar requirement will be enacted for programs that already have a liberal perspective. The goal here is to diminish the conservative point of view. The target is clear: talk radio. This is the one part of the mass media (besides the Internet) that liberalism does not dominate. The Fairness Doctrine is an attempt to neutralize the conservative voice in that arena.

Thus, one of the most basic freedoms enunciated by the Founders in the Constitution is under fire. Can it happen? With a Democratic Congress and White House, it is now conceivable.