Seems simple enough: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
It’s right there in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. And while the amendment originally only applied to the federal government, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the 1931 case of Near v. Minnesota, ruled that the 14th Amendment “incorporates” the First Amendment, i.e., makes it applicable to the states.
The importance of the right to free speech cannot be stressed enough. It is, without a doubt, the bedrock of a free people. Or, as Thomas Jefferson put it, “A democracy cannot be both ignorant and free.” Nearly two centuries later, Justice William O. Douglas reiterated the amendment’s importance in the pantheon of human rights: “Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.”
Yet, amazingly, governments still try to control the speech of the people.
Take, for example, the case of Edmund Corsi, a political activist and conservative blogger in Ohio’s Geauga County who also happens to be a cousin to author, WND (formerly WorldNetDaily) columnist and noted birther Jerome Corsi, who wrote “Unfit for Command,” and “The Obama Nation.”
Edmund Corsi runs a website called the Geauga Constitutional Council (http://j.mp/1gBlB7i). He also holds get-togethers with other activists, distributes fliers critical of politicians, and holds events featuring conservative speakers.
While Corsi is a conservative, he has had no problem bashing Republicans as well as Democrats. Because of this, he angered the head of the local Republican Party, Edward Ryder, who Corsi labeled a RINO, a Republican In Name Only.
In 2009, Corsi published a pamphlet that included praise and criticism of some candidates for political office and distributed it from a booth he hosted at the Geauga County Fair.
Ryder took that opportunity to file a complaint against Corsi, claiming that Corsi’s blog was really a political action committee and his pamphlet lacked the requisite disclaimer and that he had failed to file financial reports with the state. He based his argument on the fact that the pamphlet used the word we instead of I, which implies an organization, not an individual.
In 2011, The Ohio Elections Commission agreed and ruled that Corsi should have registered as a political action committee if he wanted to speak out — defying the First Amendment and Supreme Court precedent in the process.
Essentially, what the commission said was that Ohioans who wish to speak out on political candidates and political issues must register with the government. That would certainly put a chill on free speech. In 2012, an Ohio appellate court agreed with the commission and the Ohio Supreme Court took the courageous stand (sarcasm) of declining to hear the case.
If this seems to fly in the face of the words from the First Amendment quoted above, that’s because it does.
The First Amendment was meant to protect, above all else, political speech. History tells us that and the U.S. Supreme Court has on many occasions since the amendment was enacted Dec. 15, 1791, reminded us of that fact. Under Supreme Court rulings, political speech must be afforded the highest level of protection.
As the Supreme Court put it in the 1966 case of Mills v. Alabama, “There is practically universal agreement that a major purpose of that Amendment was to protect the free discussion of governmental affairs … of course includ[ing] discussions of candidates.”
Hopefully, the Supreme Court will take this opportunity to reiterate that fact. The case of Corsi v. Ohio Elections Commission is set for conference Sept. 30 and the court will likely announce Oct. 7 whether it will take the case.
It is imperative that the court reiterate that public officials should not be permitted to use the force of law to silence those who express a political opinion. Ohio’s law concerning what constitutes a PAC must be ruled unconstitutional if it suppresses political opposition, which it clearly does.
It would be a sad day, indeed, when a blogger or other political activist can be silenced by the state under the color of law.