THE FREEDOM TO HEAR
No one should force us to listen
Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee has made a mockery of the decorum and common courtesy that, apparently, is now a bygone era for Congress.
There was a time when most in Congress chose to oppose the policies they disagreed with, rather than silencing the voices of mere debate;
escorted out of the hearing due to hecklers harassing them. And Capitol police ended up arresting 70 people on the very first day of the hearings, as well.
And like those parents of the “perfect” child, who actually is the one who misbehaves and bullies the worst (but is never to blame), here comes Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin to make where being honest was more important than being petty, or preening for the cameras; where being noble was more important than being noisy.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley says this was one of the most unruly openings of any confirmation hearing, saying, “This is something I’ve never gone through before in 15 Supreme Court nominations.” Even Judge Kavanaugh’s kids had to be excuses for the ruckus in the hearing. He explains how it wasn’t – at all – the protesters’ fault for disrupting the hearings, saying, “What we’ve heard is the noise of democracy,” and, “this is what happens in a free country when people can stand up and speak and not be jailed, imprisoned, tortured or killed because of it.”
No and no. Heck to the no. This is none of that. At all.
You see, Sen. Durbin, there is a difference between your freedom of speech or freedom of expression, and your right to be heard. And just because you have the former doesn’t mean you’re entitled to the latter. In other words, no one, especially a protester out of order in a formal Senate hearing, has the right to demand anyone listen to their opinion.
Yes, you still do have the right to speak your mind freely. This is protected by our First Amendment to the Constitution and accorded to us by the Creator. In fact, the Bible is filled with many teachings about speaking up for what is right.
But “speaking up” is not the problem.
We Americans pride ourselves on our right to speak up. It’s the everincreasing, childish, petulant, entitlement mentality of too many who feel they get to decide when we must listen to their points of view, regardless of whether it’s the appropriate time, or whether we want to, in the first place (just like the kneeling that occurs during the national anthem before NFL games or political statements made at the Oscars).
Please know that the courts have held that the First Amendment protects the right to receive information and ideas (not just on speech), but that a restriction on the right to receive information and ideas is a restriction on speech. It’s like Justice Thurgood Marshall said, “[t]he freedom to speak and the freedom to hear are inseparable; they are two sides of the same coin.”
The point here is that while the “demonstrators” may be exercising their free speech rights, no one has any right to force any of us to listen.
Protesting during the confirmation hearings (from inside the hearing room) is an example of how the mob silences free speech (and erodes our “freedom to hear,” as Justice Marshall put it). It’s what happened at UC Berkeley and at campuses across the country, as speakers are banned (and disinvited) for merely participating in the debate of ideas. How about the elected officials who are stalked, harassed and heckled wherever they go because of their political beliefs? Or members of the Trump administration (and their families, like Sarah Huckabee Sanders) who are kicked out of restaurants because of where they choose to work?
If more and more Americans are shouted down by those who are offended by the mere exchange of ideas (like the protesters in the Kavanaugh hearing), then the result won’t just be less offensive speech – but no speech at all. And we simply cannot let that happen.
Louis R. Avallone is a Shreveport businessman, attorney and author of “Bright Spots, Big Country, What Makes America Great.” He is also a former aide to U.S. Representative Jim McCrery and editor of The Caddo Republican. His columns have appeared regularly in The Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by e-mail at louisavallone@mac. com, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.