Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee recently stated that Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh are “abusing” the 1st Amendment. She claims their “brand of conservative speech” is akin to shouting “fire” in a crowed theater. Ms. Jackson-Lee was erroneously referring to the Espionage Act of 1917 and the 1919 Supreme Court case of Schenck v. United States, although I am quite sure that she was unaware of that when she said it. Ms. Jackson-Lee is not the brightest bulb in the fixture. In 2005, while on a tour of Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, the cerebral Ms. Lee asked if the Mars Rover had taken a photograph of the flag planted by Neil Armstrong. That flag, of course, was planted on the Moon, not Mars. At the time Ms. Lee was serving on the House Science Committee and on the Subcommittee that oversees space policy.
But I digress. Schenck was a Socialist who was arrested and convicted of handing out leaflets opposing the military draft during World War I. The issue at hand was whether or not the “interfering with military or naval operations” sections of the Espionage Act of 1917 violated the 1st Amendment. The Supremes upheld Schenck’s conviction and he ultimately served six months in prison for his crime. Writing for the unanimous majority, Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes ruled “…the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. […] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent..”
The Espionage Act of 1917, the act to which Ms. Jackson-Lee inadvertently referenced, had to do with interference with military operations. Perhaps she should have (inadvertently) referred to a set of amendments to the Espionage Act called the Sedition Act 1918. That act prohibited “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” about the flag, the government or the armed forces during wartime. Ah, but alas, that act was repealed in 1920 and everyone convicted under the act was later pardoned or given reduced sentences. Well, Sheila, there’s always hope. You still have net neutrality to look forward to. But that’s another rant for another day.
Progressives are like cockroaches…they conduct their dirty business in the dark and then scurry for cover when a light is shined in their direction. Free speech, or in this case, conservative speech, is that light. Naturally a progressive/Socialist like Ms. Jackson-Lee hates Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity and the hundreds of other conservative talkers out there. But attacking conservative talkers and accusing them of abusing their 1st Amendment rights is like peeing your pants in a dark suit…it might give you nice warm feeling but nobody notices. Short of a declaration of martial law or a coup d’ etat, conservative talk is here to stay.
My advice to Ms. Jackson Lee would be to stay off the air and under the radar. As Mark Twain said, better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.