Free speech protections vital for everyone


Freedom of speech is the core tenet of the First Amendment and it is fundamental to our democracy. Without the freedom to speak our thoughts, we the people cannot attain or retain our unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Those who founded our nation knew this to be true, as do we, two advocates who often find ourselves in disagreement about much else.

ACLU of Indiana perspective

The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in defense of freedom of speech and thought. It has stood fiercely vigilant in its defense for almost 100 years. Free speech is necessary to our system of self-government and gives the American people the power to check government overreach and corruption. If the American people are to be the masters of our fate and of our government, we must have access to all information, ideas and points of view, and we must speak truth to power.

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America is the world’s steward of freedom of speech and yet, even here, that freedom needs constant protection. Should flag burning be a crime? What about government or private censorship of works of art that touch on sensitive issues such as religion or sexuality? Should the internet be subject to any form of government control? Should speakers who espouse controversial opinions on race, religion or gender be heard on college campuses? In answering these questions, history and the core values of the First Amendment should be our guide.

American history tells the same tale as that of every other nation: The first target of government repression is never the last. If we do not come to the defense of the free speech rights of the most unpopular among us, even if their views are antithetical to the very freedom the First Amendment stands for, then no one’s liberty will be secure. At the same time, the Constitution requires an intricate balance among all rights that it guarantees, including the essential freedoms of the First Amendment. Our shared American values challenge us to defend our neighbor’s liberty’s as well as our own.

Organization’s perspective

The First Amendment and the five freedoms it assures are essential for the Indiana Family Institute. As a public policy advocacy organization committed to advancing policy, the heart of our work is public persuasion. To make our views known, we need unfettered freedom to make policy arguments in public. This may be before a legislative body, in an op-ed in a newspaper or in a church gathering to inform the citizenry of the key issues we face.

For this reason, among many, IFI brought its first and only public interest lawsuit in late 2015, arguing in an Indiana state court the local ordinances of four cities (Carmel, Indianapolis, Bloomington and Columbus), when combined with a state statute, infringe on IFI’s constitutional free speech rights. The heart of this case gets its first substantive hearing, but IFI has prevailed on procedural and jurisdictional issues before both the trial court and the Indiana Court of Appeals. Fighting for these free speech freedoms is essential to IFI’s mission.

We also know the best way to preserve and protect free speech and other core American rights is to use them. We must all speak out, making our views known even when they challenge the prevailing orthodoxy. It’s actually more important to speak out when going against the grain of political expediency or political correctness. Speaking our beliefs may come at a cost, but we believe the larger goal of an informed public makes the price worth it.

Our shared perspective

The First Amendment’s freedom of speech protections reflect two fundamental values of importance to both the ACLU of Indiana and IFI. First, speech meant to inspire action against unjust laws or policies is essential to democracy. Second, the importance of open dialogue, where opposing viewpoints can hear one another, is critical to a free and just society.

As Americans work toward their vision of a “more perfect union,” the First Amendment allows breathing room for the messy, chaotic and passionate speech that will shape our country for future generations.

Jane Henegar is the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana. Curt Smith is chairman of the Indiana Family Institute. Send comments to [email protected].

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