The right to free speech is one of the most important provisions set forth in the Constitution. As a lifelong civil libertarian I have been involved in a variety of legal cases in which the issue of free speech was at the forefront. In fact, one of the cases I advocated for involved defending, of all groups, the Ku Klux Klan. There is no denying that the KKK is a despicable organization. However, I hold no desire to give up my 1st amendment rights just to insure that they are denied theirs.
That being said, the 1st amendment does not give you the right to yell fire in a crowded theatre, neither does it protect your right to violate a United States Federal Statute. Representative Michelle Bachman, (R-Minnesota) approached, and possibly crossed, the line of legal free speech during her March 27th appearance on the Sean Hannity Radio Show. Representative Bachman said:
"At this point the American people - it's like Thomas Jefferson said, a revolution every now and then is a good thing. We are at the point, Sean, of revolution. And by that, what I mean, an orderly revolution -- where the people of this country wake up get up and make a decision that this is not going to happen on their watch. It won't be our children and grandchildren that are in debt. It is we who are in debt, we who will be bankrupting this country, inside of ten years, if we don't get a grip. And we can't let the Democrats achieve their ends any longer.
The Alien Registration Act, also known as the Smith Act makes it a criminal offense for anyone to:
"knowingly or willfully advocate, abet, advise or teach the duty, necessity, desirability or propriety of overthrowing the Government of the United States or of any State by force or violence, or for anyone to organize any association which teaches, advises or encourages such an overthrow, or for anyone to become a member of or to affiliate with any such association."
It is fairly clear that Rep. Bachman's statement advocates and advises the necessity, desirability, and propriety of overthrowing the duly elected Government of the United States. The only question is whether she is advocating that this overthrow is done by force. Her use of the word "orderly" before the term revolution" may" be a reasonable defense. However, when this statement is coupled with her March 21st statement in which she said:
"I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us ‘having a revolution every now and then is a good thing,’ and the people – we the people – are going to have to fight back hard if we’re not going to lose our country.
that defense becomes considerably less plausible. Regardless of her intent, Rep. Bachman is using extremely dangerous terms in a public forum. There are mentally unbalanced citizens in our society who need little motivation to become violent. I believe that our enforcement authorities have a duty to act when anyone in our society is involved in such a reckless campaign for revolution. Rep. Bachman is advising the political minority to overthrow the Government elected by a significant majority.
As if Representative Bachman's words are not inciteful enough, observe this recent poll from Sean Hannity's Website:
The Smith Act goes on to say:
"If two or more persons conspire to commit any offense named in this section, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction"
For the last eight years The Bush Administration routinely acted with reckless disregard for the Constitution and the laws of our Country. It is time to hold the right wing extremist accountable for their words and act to protect our elected officials.