Don Rogers: Fictions of free speech |

Don Rogers: Fictions of free speech

"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."

Recognize this?

I wonder in the wake of the tempest over Kathy Griffin's stunt and the Center for the Arts canceling her show in June.

Let's recap:

The First Amendment concerns government. That’s it. Our government doesn’t get to dictate what we say or choose not to say... You’re even free to sound off with no clue what you are talking about.

Griffin posed with a fake bloody severed head of President Trump, her free speech right.

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TMZ and some other media ran this "art," their free speech right.

Most of the "lamestream" media did not, though USA Today and Fox did. All certainly covered the fallout, their free speech right.

Some political organizations ran the photo for fundraising purposes, their free speech right.

The center months ago scheduled Griffin for a show spoofing fellow celebrities, fluff, its free speech right.

People from here and all across the country urged the center to cancel the show in light of Griffin's, er, expression, their free speech right.

A few contacted the paper, poised to cancel subscriptions if The Union supported the show through advertising and/or preview coverage, their free speech right.

Some promised to protest at the Veterans Memorial Building, where the show was scheduled, their free speech right.

At least one vowed to bus veterans up from Sacramento to demonstrate, his free speech right.

And one threatened to blow up the building, most definitely not his free speech right. Now we're talking about life and safety. The Supreme Court long ago established that free speech ends with the proverbial yelling of "Fire!" in a crowded theater.

Then the Center for the Arts canceled the show, its free speech right.

Others condemned the decision, saying the center denied an artist her free speech right. They exercised their free speech right to be dead wrong about free speech rights.

We're familiar with this error at The Union. It's not libel, character assassination, basic facts wrong, fake facts or a collection of slurs if we decline to run someone's piece of pure genius, just ask 'em. No. It's censorship. We must hate conservatives. Or we must hate liberals. Anyway, it's a violation of the First Amendment!

Except it's not.

I wish I could argue something just as absurd, like it's our constitutional right that you must subscribe. Otherwise … censorship! Yeah, that's it. Maybe this should be our next circulation drive: Sign up, because it's the law! The very First Amendment's at stake! Why, why you're suppressing free speech if you fail to take the paper.

Works for me.

Of course, this makes about as much sense as whining about the paper or the Center for the Arts denying free speech by failing to air everything and anyone.

Yes, I know. This is not what the First Amendment actually says. Please tell the callers, the emailers, the letter writers, some of the columnists. They seem quite confused.

Free speech and the First Amendment have nothing to do with whether the editors decide not to run a certain photograph, like say a comedian who thinks she's making an artistic statement that has exactly the same impact on society as an image of Bubba in a wife beater hanging an effigy of President Obama and lighting it on fire.

Are these both art or both something else? Or is one art and one not because of who did it and what they expressed with their First Amendment right to do so?

They have a right to express themselves. No one is going to arrest them. The government hasn't removed their messages or prevented them from speaking out.

And we — the paper, the center, other outlets — have the right to serve as their mouthpieces. Or not. That's not censorship. It's judgment.

The First Amendment concerns government. That's it. Our government doesn't get to dictate what we say or choose not to say.

Sure, we can be held accountable later if we libel or slander, move into life-and-safety territory, leak classified secrets.

But you can google Kathy Griffin or Bubba's nonsense. You can sound off however ignorantly and even maliciously you please.

No one, certainly not the center, is preventing you.

You're even free to sound off with no clue what you are talking about.

That's a matter of judgment, too, a gift in precious short supply.

Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at or 477-4299.

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