In our final episode of Free Speech Week, we examine the idea of compelled speech. Governmental restriction of free speech is bad enough, but governmental compulsion of speech – forcing citizens to endorse ideas to which they fundamentally object – is its evil cousin.
It is important to remember that rarely will you see a government directly compelling someone to state something against their conscience. Instead various interest groups will sue another person and a state ‘human rights’ commission will join them in harassing this citizen into conforming or face professional and sometimes career ruin. The Belfast bakery case is a classic example.
Likewise, in California pro-abortion groups attempted to compel pro-life support centres to endorse a pro-abortion message. They lost in the Supreme Court 5-4.
In this decision Justice Kennedy set out the importance of free speech and the evil of governmental compelled speech. He wrote: ‘The California Legislature included in its official history the congratulatory statement that the Act was part of California’s legacy of “forward thinking.” App. 38–39. But it is not forward thinking to force individuals to “be an instrument for fostering public adherence to an ideological point of view [they] fin[d] unacceptable”. Wooley v. Maynard, 430 U. S. 705, 715 (1977). It is forward thinking to begin by reading the First Amendment as ratified in 1791; to understand the history of authoritarian government as the Founders then knew it; to confirm that history since then shows how relentless authoritarian regimes are in their attempts to stifle free speech; and to carry those lessons onward as we seek to preserve and teach the necessity of freedom of speech for the generations to come.
Finally, Governments must not be allowed to force persons to express a message contrary to their deepest convictions. Freedom of speech secures freedom of thought and belief. This law imperils those liberties.’ (My emphasis.)
This sums up the importance of free speech. We should be ever vigilant for attempts to curb it by authoritarian forces.