Often people who attend a public event or rally are disruptive and shout out a protest message.  In all cases these people are booed or shouted down and the event resumes peacefully after a few minutes.  There is no need to punish or criminalize such behavior.  In fact it is protected free speech just like the speaker the people came to see.  The people who disrupted Trump’s rallies will be remembered as heroes and the Shakespeare in the Park disrupters only served to vindicate the performance.  Yes they disrupted the event for other listeners, but just boo them or escort them out if necessary.  Arresting or punishing these people will only radicalize them and their followers and create a vicious cycle of disruption and violence leading to witch hunts and wars.

“Listeners’ Rights” is a false and preposterous doctrine with no basis in law.  Yes everyone has free speech rights – which means that you can’t be muted by the government.  But no, you don’t have a right to ‘hear’ a message without interruption.  That is up to you and the speaker to negotiate.  Any attempt to empower the government to enforce such rights will backfire.  If you really think that the government shouldn’t interfere with speech, why would you trust it to police ‘disruption’?  It’s an invitation for chaos.  It’s up to the public and the crowd to self-police.  Ben Shapiro handles it best: at his rallies he says, “If you disagree with me, come to the front of the line.”

These proposed new laws are completely unnecessary solutions to problems that don’t exist.  They will quickly be weaponized to punish dissent.  They will be used against conservatives after the socialists rise to power after the blue wave.  Can you imagine if Second Amendment supporters are arrested for speaking out at gun control rallies?  The outcome would be tyrannical.  So why are libertarians pushing them?  Because “listeners’ rights” is the basis for Citizens United, the SCOTUS decision that allows unlimited PAC contributions.  This in turn is based on a SCOTUS case from the 50’s, where a pharmacy sued for the right to publish drug prices.  The government claimed that this was dangerous because people would be enticed to purchase unnecessary medication.  However the pharmacists won the case based on the novel doctrine of “listeners’ rights”.   This is an unnecessary rationale.  If people are so bereft of self-agency that the government must ‘protect’ them and intervene to get them drug prices, why would you trust these people to make healthy decisions for themselves about drugs and not be enticed by pharmacy price gimmicks?  In fact the government cannot restrict advertising, on the basis of the First Amendment alone, and this is what the court should have decided.  (As for CU, I think recent events have proven that political ad funding is moot.)

If you really fear that people will disrupt your event then make it private.  After all, we have freedom of association.  You can invite and exclude whoever you want.  Again, the Constitution lays it all out and we should have a little faith and give it a chance before trying to ‘fix’ it.

Women of the Wall rally in Jerusalem

Many organizations exploit community events to make their point, and this is a good thing.  For example, JVP infiltrated an Israel Day parade to protest the occupation.  Do we really want to criminalize them?  The whole reason the country was founded was to escape the witch hunts and wars of Europe.  We can speak out and protest freely without being arrested and becoming martyrs.  This is the whole point of America.  Now, of course people should be prosecuted fully for violence or vandalism.  IfNotNow protesters frequently block entrances to office buildings.  This is wrong and they should be punished.  In fact it breaks my heart because I worked so hard for the past 2 years to prevent BDS bans (which are common in Europe) so that they could protest freely without fear of being put in prison for (true or false) accusations of supporting BDS.  Yet then they go and engage in self-righteous and self-destructive publicity stunts to create a scene of getting arrested.  Their children will be their judge, as a wise man once augured.

Last summer in Jerusalem, the Women of the Wall staged a rally to demand the government crack down on the ultra-orthodox who were preventing them from praying at the wall.  There were hundreds of people, and they could easily have walked down to the Wall and walked in and protected each other and prayed as they wished (it is open 24/7).  However instead they go in a small number at a time and this makes them an easy target for the ultra-orthodox.  Why are they doing this?  Because they were trying to stoke violence as a pretext for Netanyahu to crack down and slaughter them.  It was obviously a witch hunt, and I said so:  “This is a witch hunt!  They are defenseless!  Bibi will slaughter them!”  After a few minutes the police came and carried me out.  But that’s fine, I made my point.  If my behavior was criminalized then I would be radicalized while sitting in prison.  Believe me, you don’t want to see me radicalized.

Listeners in fact have just as much free speech rights as the scheduled speaker, and it’s easy to imagine the ways in which any group could criminalize dissent.   For example they could stage an event and make increasingly racist or hateful comments and no one could say a thing.  Even laughter or booing could be considered ‘disruption’.  Far better to speak out, and let anyone who disagrees post the first comment:

5 thoughts on “Counterspell”

  1. I changed ‘drag them out’ to ‘escort them out’ in the post because I don’t think anyone should be dragged out. In most cases if the audience is booing and a security official comes to them to escort them out, they will comply and leave. Sure there might be a few cases where they go limp or something. But that is a hypothetical case and no need to create new, bad law to cover it.

  2. I should add something here. Even at a public event, if you don’t leave when asked, you can be charged with trespass. Civil disobedience doesn’t come cheap. You really need to know what you’re doing and be willing to pay the price.

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