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Re: 'Free speech vs. compelled speech' [Village News, Editorial, 4/01/ 21]


Last updated 4/14/2021 at 10:45pm

There is nothing in the text of the subject editorial that even suggests that our government intends to abridge our First Amendment freedom of speech or its corollary of freedom from speech (compelled speech). For instance, the Bill C-16 in Canada is presented as an example of compelled speech. It’s not: anti-discrimination does not equate to compelled speech. See “No, the Trans Rights Bill Doesn’t Criminalize Free Speech” (Vice).

And the attempt to compel speech at Shawnee State University was just that: an attempt by a state university, not the government. It was resolved firmly for freedom from speech in the indicated case, Meriwether v The Trustees of Shawnee State University.

In the court’s decision, the judge also felt “compelled” to comment: "Although public universities may not force professors to endorse or eschew specific viewpoints, the First Amendment does not bar a public university from requiring that its faculty treat each other and their students with civility.” I think the judge was saying attempted compelled speech wasn’t Shawnee’s only problem.

In the case of National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v Becerra, the court struck down two provisions that would have resulted in compelled speech. Becerra did win an important point: The Court affirmed that unlicensed facilities must disclose their unlicensed status: not disclosing would have been a case of lying by omission. ( These unlicensed facilities typically call themselves Crisis Pregnancy Centers. They provide no medical services. Their sole purpose is to persuade pregnant women not to have an abortion.

An important case at the state level was “West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette” (1943) In this case, the Court ruled that a state cannot force children to stand, salute the flag, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. By extension, that goes for adults as well.

Another case, important because it involved a conflict between belief and science, was Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District.(2005). Two science teachers, who were being pressured to introduce Intelligent Design into the curriculum, filed suit because it would require them to speak in violation of their firmly held belief that Intelligent Design is not science. The judge concurred, saying: “Intelligent Design is a religious view, not a scientific theory.”

The point here is that from time to time people attempt to compel speech and the Courts invariably shut them down. Abridging freedom of speech or freedom from speech at the federal government level hasn’t happened and the day it does happen will be the day when there’s no more America.

John H. Terrell


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