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Cancel Culture: The Attack on Free Speech, not the First Amendment

Cancel Culture has come back in full swing, and you know what that means: We need to have the First Amendment discussion. The First Amendment forbids Congress from passing any law that abridges the people’s right to free speech. The original intent of the amendment was to protect speech from being silenced by the government, who may have a special interest in silencing some forms of speech. The Founders did not draft the amendment in an effort to protect speech to which we agree. The amendment was instead drafted and passed to protect unpopular ideas from being silenced by the masses. The federal government has attempted to limit speech overtime through executive orders, laws passed by Congress, and precedents set by the Supreme Court. Some of these attempts have been successful, while others failed, thanks to our First Amendment protections.

Fast forward to 2020 and we are experiencing unpopular speech being silenced by the masses. This time, however, the populous is not acting in violation of our First Amendment right, because they are not utilizing government as their avenue to silence speech. Instead, people are combating unpopular speech with free market pressures. They are using the credibility that they have gained on their personal platforms to organize boycotts and protests of businesses, organizations, and individuals that speak outside of the barriers of what they consider to be appropriate. In return, these businesses, organizations, and individuals are folding to the market pressures and giving the consumers what they want. These private actors have essentially created the chilling effect on speech that the Founders sought to prevent through the passage of the First Amendment.

After years of attempting to silence anti-government activists or other forms of speech viewed as harmful to society through legal recourse, the government and those opposed to the free market of ideas have found a loophole to the First Amendment. No longer will unpopular speech be challenged in a court of law or be criminalized through the legislative process. Instead, speech to which we do not agree will cost you your career, your credibility, your friends, your family, and your access to any platform to defend yourself from public scrutiny.

Instead of inviting public discussion and debate, ideas outside of the norm now suffer severe consequences when voiced publicly. Aware of the Cancel Culture that has recently revamped, people are self-censoring in fear of being canceled. While the First Amendment may not be under attack, the principles of free speech are currently being challenged by private efforts. The people interested in silencing unpopular speech are doing so in a way that does not conflict with the First Amendment.

Although these private forces are acting inside the legal realm, their actions are harmful to a free society. The Founders recognized the importance of free speech and the purpose it serves in a free society. Operating under limited government control, as intended by the Constitution, the Founders provided as much protection to free speech as possible. The limits on government as defined by the Constitution restricted the Founders’ ability to protect speech from private forces.

Congress no longer has to create new categories of speech that they claim were not intended to be protected under the First Amendment. Today, politicians can utilize their public platforms to echo the voices of the masses, silence the dissent, and boost their celebrity. They no longer have to go through the legislative process or challenge unpopular speech in the courts. They can now condemn speech publicly, allow the masses to privately suppress the speech, and deter anyone else who is considering speaking off script from doing so publicly, all while boosting their numbers in the polls.

We live in a culture where if you have something to say, you’re better off keeping it to yourself. Even if your idea could be a positive addition to the public discussion, the risk of voicing your opinion and being wrong now outweighs the potential societal impacts.

Protecting the principles of free speech from private forces is the responsibility of the private actor or actors who wish to engage in dissent. This form of engagement in the fast-paced Cancel Culture will not be pleasant and may result in severe consequences As we have seen and will continue to see, people who disagree with the script that is currently being echoed throughout the media and pop culture have lost their jobs, their friends and families, and their ability to publicly defend themselves from scrutiny. If we do not fight back now, we may lose our right to freely express ourselves forever.

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