COVID is bringing out the tyrant in America's politicians

The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States is pretty straightforward.  It simply states, "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."

There are limits on freedom of speech.  It does not include the right to defame or slander or threaten someone.  It does not give someone the right to shout, falsely, "Fire!" in a crowded theater or incite the overthrow of the government.

However, the Founding Fathers strongly believed that without freedom of speech, it would be impossible to have a free society.  James Madison, in particular, insisted that the people were the power in a true republic, and as such, the people had to be able to speak their minds without fear of reprisal.  Until September 1, 2021, the First Amendment guaranteed the right of the people to do just that.

On September 1, 2021, the San Diego Board of Supervisors voted to declare COVID misinformation a public health crisis.  They also voted to adopt measures to combat said misinformation.  The Board made it clear that they were partnering with the U.S. surgeon general's recommendations about health misinformation.

Board chairman Nathan Fletcher called opponents of the measure "mostly right-wing anti-vaxxers."  Mr. Fletcher then assured the public that the policy would not affect anyone's freedom of speech.  Considering that he believes that anyone questioning the party line espoused by the government is a right-wing anti-vaxxer, I find it hard to believe that he doesn't want to shut down freedom of speech in San Diego.

The new policy, which Mr. Fletcher authored, calls for a number of measures, including documenting sources of misinformation, tracing costs and negative impacts of misinformation, and countering it across media.  Sounds to me as though anyone who publicly questions COVID dogma could be labeled as a source of misinformation and shut down.  Even so knowledgeable and prestigious a person as Dr. Robert Malone, the inventor of the mRNA vaccine, has been labeled as a source of misinformation by Facebook.

Now, San Diego County has chosen to align itself with those who would take away freedom of speech in the name of public health.  The First Amendment has never faced so grave a challenge.  There is nothing in the First Amendment that calls for accuracy of speech.  Nowhere was there ever a call for allowing only those who agree with the government to be able to speak their minds without being officially branded as liars and purveyors of misinformation.

There may be those who claim that the current health crisis calls for stifling individual liberties in the name of public safety.  To those I say, let us remember what Benjamin Franklin had to say about the tradeoff between liberty and safety: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Pandra Selivanov is the author of Future Slave, a story about a 21st century black teenager who is sent back in time and becomes a slave in the old south.

Image: Washington at the Constitutional Convention by Junius Brutus Stearns (with added text).  Public Domain. 

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