By Rey Barry
"Americans have free speech"
Among our bundle of exaggerations pleasant to believe, none is more alluring or deceptive than "Americans have Free Speech."
It's based on the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution that says "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ..." The 14th Amendment makes that applicable to the states also. We focus on that and look no further, missing the other 90%.
The truth? If you hold a protest sign on the steps of the US Supreme Court building, you will be arrested, fined, and jailed. Why? Because the chief justice totally abridged freedom of speech on his steps. He can do that because he's the Judiciary, not Congress.
The 1st Amendment doesn't apply to the Judiciary.
Suppose you were a sailor aboard the USS Seawolf on July 17, 1996, and suppose you witnessed a missile firing that brought down TWA Flight 800. You cannot ever reveal anything about it without fear of serious retribution. The Navy is under the Executive branch which can abridge freedom of speech at any time, for any reason or none, and be unaccountable to anyone.
The Free Speech Amendment applies only to legislative bodies, and they have many ways around it.
Away from government we have even less free speech. If you say, "That's a Japanese car" that's ok. But if you say, "That's a Jap car," you will be warned not to. If you do it again you'll probably be fired. Censorship has a new name, political correctness.
Kids who talk in a chat group or in email can be arrested, tried, convicted, and jailed, as happened recently to teens in Virginia and other states. They did nothing but talk. There were no acts committed or even planned, merely thoughts expressed. Expressing wrong thoughts is now a crime in the US.
You might think school kids are told they have free speech to trap them.
The First Amendment does not confer ANY right of speech. What it does is place a limit on the power of one branch of government, the Legislative, to control speech. And even that limit is as much myth as reality now.
We see it every day. Government workers called judges impose gag orders on everyone in the courtroom whenever they like, and are answerable to no one but fellow government workers.
The entire Grand Jury system, federal and state, operates in secrecy. Free speech? Anyone revealing more than a name and decision can be jailed without recourse and without end. And sometimes the agenda and even the decision are secret. There's no freedom whatever.
The Grand Jury system is an autocracy, government by one individual subject only to a jury finding that comes from the prosecutor's side of the case, because there is no other side presented.
New York State chief judge Sol Wachtler was famously quoted by Tom Wolfe in "The Bonfire of the Vanities" that "a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich, if that's what you wanted." He would know; he, himself, was indicted.
Recently California enacted a law keeping investigations of police misconduct away from Grand Juries. One state out of 50 admits Grand Juries are incompatible with justice.
The Executive branch routinely demands secrecy, puts embarrassing documents out of the public eye, can prosecute anyone who violates its self-serving "security net."
Departments in the Executive Branch are free to limit your speech if bureaucrats choose to. One example: real estate salespeople can be prosecuted for revealing to an inquiring home buyer that someone in a house had AIDS.