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As the Senate trial of Donald Trump gets underway, the debate over the extent and limits of free speech has moved into the spotlight.

 

Today in Newsweek, Terry Schilling, executive director of American Principles Project, argues that the Democrats’ case against Trump sets a troubling standard, which if accepted would put the First Amendment rights of all Americans at serious risk:

 

In recent weeks, would-be deplatformers have introduced a new term of art to justify an even greater crackdown on unwelcome political speech: “incitement to violence.”

 

This phrase refers to the allegation currently facing Donald Trump in his post-presidency impeachment trial, set to begin this week. Apart from a rather inane reference to a cliched figure of speech the president used (Trump said people should “fight like hell” for their country), the article of impeachment offers no evidence that he intended or even approved of what took place at the Capitol. Instead, it argues, Trump’s claim that the election was rigged in itself constitutes incitement. His political argument, they claim, was so evil, so pernicious, that just hearing the points laid out was enough to drive some in the crowd to violence.

 

…[T]he purpose of the impeachment is not to make a legal argument so much as it is to establish a moral and rhetorical justification for the censorship and punishment of political speech. As the impeachers are quick to point out, they do not feel constrained by the First Amendment legally, and certainly don’t feel constrained by it morally. Instead they seek to elevate a speech-as-violence framework that as yet has only caught on among left-wing campus activists.

 

If their standard is widely adopted, it will not stop with Trump, nor will it be limited to declarations about this past election. And if history is any guide, it will eventually be used to justify far worse things than impeachment.

 

Schilling goes on to give a number of examples of how this “incitement” standard is already being used to justify further censorship, particularly of conservative voices.

 

You can read Terry Schilling’s full op-ed here.

Author: Press Release