People have debated what, precisely, the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution means. But no-one to my knowledge has argued that the “right to bear arms” means that you can therefore shoot dead whomever you want. That is not a “freedom” under any reasonable definition.
What would be the consequence of simply saying that under our Constitution, you can kill whomever you want? Anarchy. Chaos. Such a state of affairs would certainly not be conducive to an economic recovery, controlling the pandemic, or “domestic tranquility.” The Second Amendment also doesn’t mean that you can go kill people provided you think you are justified. The fact that you believe you are right does not mean you are right. If you do own a gun, you have a responsibility to use it wisely. You can own a car. But that doesn’t give you the right to drive however you damned well feel like. It doesn’t give you the right to go as fast as you want and it certainly doesn’t give you the right to kill people with your car. Similarly, you can own a home. But owning your own home doesn’t mean you can set up an opium den or a crack house there. With rights come responsibilities.
So it is as well with the “Freedom of Speech.” You have the right to make arguments for your point of view, even if that view is not popular. But, as nearly everyone realizes, that does not mean you have the freedom to stand up in a crowded theater (should they ever exist again) and scream “FIRE!” at the top of your lungs. If you did, and people were trampled to death in the panicked rush to get out, you would rightly be held liable for their deaths.
That is not the only restriction on your “Freedom of Speech.” You cannot visit someone, sneak a bottle of vodka out of their liquor cabinet while they aren’t looking, pour the Absolute down the drain, and replace the contents with wood alcohol, and then sneak it back into the liquor cabinet. You cannot knowing sell horse meat as venison. You cannot lie about your age in order to register to vote or buy alcohol or firearms.
You cannot convince your neighbor that wood alcohol will prevent COVID (it won’t and it’s poison) and then let them act accordingly. It is certainly not ethical, if someone has the symptoms of an appendicitis, to tell them not to worry because doctors just perform operations to make money and that instead, they should simply take a laxative (this can easily result in a burst appendix followed by sepsis and death). It is also probably illegal to do so, even if you sincerely, but wrongly believe that taking a laxative will cure an appendicitis.
Suppose your friend has a two year old with a nasty looking wart on their hand. Suppose you convince your friend, that you can simply cut off the child’s hand with a meat cleaver and that the next day, a new hand will grow back and it will be perfect — no wart. Your friend is rather stupid to believe you, but that doesn’t mean you have no responsibility in the matter. You cannot successfully argue in court that you were “merely executing your right to free speech.”
It is not okay to simply spread lies because there are other people spreading the same lies. With Freedom of Speech comes the responsibility to check up on the veracity of what you say, write, or tweet. If your intention is to mislead people into harming or killing someone, you will be held liable.
Sometimes, deciding what is true is difficult. In the case of my convincing you that your child’s hand will grow back, you could use logic, or experience, or seek out the expertise of medical doctors. Some people have not been educated to take these steps. That is sad, but if someone is misled into committing a crime, a mentally competent adult doing the misleading and the mentally competent adult who has been misled are both liable, even if both of them have been misled by misinformation on the Internet. That is why it is so important not to spread misinformation.
Sometimes such misinformation is spread with the best of intentions. People may actually believe that people with red hair are devils in disguise and that they are all hell-bent on destroying the earth. That still doesn’t make it all right for you to kill red-haired people nor to spread lies about them that results in someone else killing red-haired people. If you spread your belief and that action harms other people, you are not somehow exonerated because you believed the lie that you spread.
There is, however, a category of misinformation still worse than spreading deadly lies without checking up on them.
That happens when people who know better, such as Ted Cruz, spread lies that they know are lies in order to gain political power. He was valedictorian in his high school class and has degrees from Princeton and Harvard Law School. He has both the knowledge and the intelligence to know that he was lying about election results. Unless someone was drugging him without his knowledge or he has a brain tumor, he knowingly and cravenly tried to overthrow the most recent Presidential election. And he did so in the most cravenly and cowardly way possible: by intentionally and cynically rousing others to violence. Everyone who died in DC as a result of the Sedition Riot has their blood on his hands.
What he did, and others of his ilk, is not the exercise of free speech any more than screaming “FIRE!!” In a crowded theater is exercising free speech. Cruz’s rabble rousing is no more free speech than my robbing a bank at gunpoint is a “free speech” demonstration of my objection to wealth inequality. Cruz knows full well that Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, and by quite a bit. Cruz knows that there was no wide-spread election fraud. Cruz knew full well that the President’s lies on the subject had predisposed an angry mob to believe his lies and act on them.
This was not the first time that Ted Cruz had egregiously lied in public life. Before the Senate impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump, he swore an oath for a fair trial. Then, he joined other GOP Senators to refuse to hold a fair trail; refusing to call witnesses and refusing to subpoena documents. Leaving Trump in office has led to hundreds of thousands of needlessly dead Americans. Those deaths are on the heads of Donald J. Trump, but also on the heads of Senators who swore to hold a fair trial and then made no attempt to do so.
There are many lies that have emanated from Ted Cruz — a man who is a United States Senator. His lies meant to incite a riotous attack on our democracy were not the first of his lies. But they should be the last.
He should be ejected from the Senate and criminally prosecuted for inciting to riot and for treason.
Our founders knew that a would-be dictator, such as Donald J. Trump, would be a danger to our democracy. They provided for that eventuality. Sadly, they failed to anticipate the astounding level of cowardice that could be displayed by people such as Ted Cruz. I suppose it’s understandable. After all, these founders had just engaged in a war against the much more powerful and better trained British. And, they had won. They didn’t all agree with each other, but they were not a bunch of craven cowards who would sell their family for a moldy table scrap of a would-be dictator’s affection.
Cowardly sycophants of that ilk belong in prison; not in the United States Senate.
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