“Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.”
Ten words, written into the First Amendment to the Constitution by James Madison over 200 years ago, became the subject of controversy in recent weeks when the right-wing group Patriot Prayer attempted to host a rally in decidedly left-leaning San Francisco.
Local leaders fell into an uproar, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Mayor Ed Lee denouncing the event as a “white supremacist” rally and calling for the National Park Service not to grant the group a permit, despite the fact that the Southern Poverty Law Center does not classify the group as a hate group, nor does it classify the group’s leader, Joey Gibson, as an extremist.
Pelosi and Lee justified their reactions to the announcement of the rally by citing reports of violence that have dogged previous Patriot Prayer-organized events.
Despite being granted a permit by the NPS, Gibson cancelled the event the afternoon before it was scheduled, and subsequent plans for other locations fizzled out. The day was mostly marked by the actions of the “counter-protesters,” who held peaceful marches and rallies at multiple locations throughout the city.
As the events unfolded, I could not help but feel that security concern was not the only reason that Pelosi, Lee and the Board of Supervisors came out so harshly against the planned event. I worried that their reactions affirmed the position that some ideas cannot, and do not, deserve to be shared.
I proudly wear a “Hillary for President” button on my backpack, and I cheered when the Supreme Court decided that gay marriage is constitutionally-protected. I do not agree with the views espoused by Patriot Prayer, but I do not think that peaceful expression of those views should be limited or prohibited because they are different from my own.
When one person stifles another’s voice, they completely remove the opportunity for peaceful cooperation between the groups. As I watch the politics of this country become increasingly partisan, I wonder whether the idea of lawmakers working together rather than against each other is a fantasy that exists only in my dreams.
Was frustration with the stagnant nature of politics and the politicians who argue but never seem to achieve any change the reason why this country elected Donald Trump to the presidency?
As a journalist, I will be the first to protect the freedom of speech, as it guarantees me the right to express ideas like these without fear of legal consequence or retaliation. I hope that all of our elected leaders want to protect every American’s right to feel that way.
But, it appears we often forget one thing — freedom of speech goes both ways. My neighbor is just as entitled to attend a Patriot Prayer rally as I am to wear that Hillary Clinton button on my backpack.