More than a theory?

At the risk of stating the obvious, this country wasn't founded as a land of submission, and the First Amendment wasn't intended as a theory never to be put into practice. (Unlike the Stalin Constitution [link from Patrick Crozier at Samizdata] which recited that "freedom of speech" is "guaranteed by law.")

I've often marveled, though, over the contrast between the theory and practice of free speech. As we all know, the right to sound off and criticize what we don't like is part of our birthright. When the target of the criticism is government conduct, why, the First Amendment is paramount.

That's the theory. Put it into practice and you might find that what we call "the government" consists not of an impartial and fair body of neutral parties steeped in the culture of the founding fathers, but people. Often powerful, politically motivated activists with biases and axes to grind. Like most people, they don't take kindly to criticism, but unlike most people, they have the power of the state behind them. (And the trusty but rusty First Amendment is the only restraint on their power.)

A blogger in Maine, one Lance Dutson is learning first hand about the difference between First Amendment theory and First Amendment practice. He's being sued for exercising his First Amendment rights:

MBA Member Lance Dutson who blogs at Maine Web Report was recently served with a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Maine. The lawsuit alleges copyright infringement and defamation for reporting and commentary written and published by Dutson on his blog.

"This case is nothing more than an attempt by a deep-pocketed litigant to bully a blogger for criticizing state officials and state contractors"", said MBA President Robert Cox. "We have successfully defended MBA members in nine previous cases and I don¬Ļt expect the outcome here to be be any different."

Dutson went public this morning with news of the lawsuit and provided key links here including his account of the events leading up to the lawsuit and the complaint served on Dutson by the local sheriff at his home in Maine. Dutson has vowed to fight.

"The idea that criticism of the state government can be defamatory is absurd", said Dutson, "This attempt to bludgeon critics of the state government is not going to work."

Through it's legal defense initiative, the MBA provides member bloggers with "first line" legal defense, pro bono advice on how best to respond to legal threats related to the member's blog.

Here's Lance Dutson's account:
Warren Kremer Paino Advertising has filed a 3 count multi-million dollar federal lawsuit against me for the reporting Iíve done in this blog. They are claiming defamation, libel, and copyright infringement.

Getting the sheriff to deliver the suit to me, in front of my kids and neighbors, is the latest freaked-out situation this Office of Tourism has put me in. I have to say this has disrupted the Dutson household a bit, thatís what happens when someone files a crushing lawsuit that, if successful, would utterly destroy my life.

So here I am, one man against the state and its contractors, put in the position of shutting up or being pounded by their deep pockets and a wild misconception of what the court system is supposed to be used for. One person who has exposed a cavalcade of incompetence and who has to choose to allow it, or face an onslaught of personal attack and legal action.

This is crap, total crap and Iím not going to fold, not at this point. Theyíve already screwed with me and my family so much, and I will not be bullied into discontinuing my work here. This state agency is wasting money, telling stories, and paying subcontractors who seem more focused on spending their time and money bludgeoning critics with legal threats and lawsuits rather than working to promote Maine tourism.

The problem here is that the First Amendment notwithstanding, intimidation works as a tactic. The idea, I think, is that if bloggers are attacked and picked off piecemeal, each one who caves (or folds) will be an object lesson to the rest. Of course, that's traditional intimidation theory. Blogging seems to have changed that by adding a new defense strategy along the lines of "an attack on one is an attack on all":
....the days of traditional techniques of intimidation are numbered. That's because any attempt at intimidation will immediately be widely reported, and, as an attack on one becomes an attack on all, suddenly the attacker will not be a bully facing one lone victim, but hundreds, maybe thousands of victims -- all turning the tables and defending themselves at once. It would be as if a mugger selected a victim in a crowded city and everyone suddenly leaped into action to help.

To add insult to the bully's injury, a documented attack on a blogger tends to produce what every blogger wants: hits and traffic.

Thus, the bully who tries to intimidate a blogger ends up helping the very thing he intended to harm!

No wonder fear societies hate bloggers. It just isn't fair, being afraid of the people who are supposed to fear you!

Of course, this is America. We aren't supposed to be living in a "fear society." Our founding principles are based not on submission, but on its exact opposite. That's why the founders fought a revolution.

Sheesh.

I know this all should be obvious, but sometimes it helps to remember the obvious. That's why we used to have Civics classes. (Link via Positive Liberty.)

posted by Eric on 04.29.06 at 07:16 AM










Comments

Add to this story John McCain's recent remarks on the 1st Amendment (and many other recents events) it's hard not to see our time as one where we have to reconnect our country to the ideals rooted in our founding and that are essential for a successful free society. One of my main goals has become to create an organization to wage the idea war in favor of the ideas of liberty. I'm not someone who is inclined toward political activism, but if I don't act on my convictions then who will?

phil   ·  April 29, 2006 5:20 PM

Our founding principles are based not on submission, but on its exact opposite. That's why the founders fought a revolution. ... I know this all should be obvious, but sometimes it helps to remember the obvious. That's why we used to have Civics classes.

... because the American Revolution was obviously inspired by lessons learned in government civics classes?

Rad Geek   ·  April 30, 2006 11:01 AM

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