By Dan Pool
Marjorie Taylor Greene, who represents the western part of Pickens County as part of her 14th District, was stripped of her committee assignments last week for statements she made (most prior to being elected) and also, of course, due to the usual political fighting in Washington.
I won’t comment on the politics, but would like to offer a few thoughts on the freedom of speech issues at play here.
People often call for protection under the First Amendment to voice whatever statement they want. And generally they have it. Go say whatever you want from the courthouse lawn; post whatever you want on your own website or in a printed pamphlet like the Founding Fathers; no one will likely stop you.
But as Rep. Greene found out, freedom of speech does not mean freedom from any responsibility for what you say.
According to numerous online news reports, she faced backlash for her more outlandish claims on social media and in online videos including the plane crash that killed John F. Kennedy, Jr. was “another of those Clinton murders.” She liked a comment calling for another member of Congress to be shot in the head. [Note: she didn’t make the statement but she gave a positive nod to someone else’s call for a bullet in the head.] In another instance she indicated that the Parkland school shooting was a planned scheme to endanger the Second Amendment.
Most bizarrely, in a Facebook post now deleted, in 2018 she stated based on “some research I’ve done” the California wildfires may have been started by a space device controlled by a wealthy Jewish European family.
Last week, before the vote to remove her from committees, Greene backtracked, saying she regrets, “I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true.” She then threw in the blanket apology, “I believe in God with all my heart, and I’m so grateful to be humbled to be reminded that I’m a sinner and that Jesus died on the cross to forgive me for my sins. And this is something that I absolutely rejoice in today to tell you all, and I think it’s important for all of us to remember none of us are perfect,” according to Rollcall.com.
Ms. Greene was certainly within her rights to voice opinions and can certainly continue to be a vocal backer of whatever she believes. The difference here is when you allege something to be a fact, the Clintons had JFK, Jr. killed, that lasers started the wildfires, you may be called to cite sources and offer proof.
Greene was defended to some extent by congressional leader Kevin McCarthy, who said, “If this is the new standard, I look forward to continuing out the standards.”
Right on, we say. Please do. Yes, let’s continue making people responsible for what they say.
The idea that you can put out whatever you want with total immunity from any consequence was never part of freedom of speech.
The First Amendment lets you say things that are correct, or that you have solid reasons for believing to be accurate. Outright lies, or wild conjecture have never been covered, especially when it harms something or someone.
And as they used to teach, “falsely yelling fire in a crowded theater is not protected speech.”
Today that might be need to be updated, “liking calls for a bullet in the head can lead to consequences.”
That Greene now regrets some of her previous statements is commendable. She still has two years on her term and she may yet turn out to be a great representative for this area.
This certainly wasn’t how she wanted to get started, but we think it sets a good lesson that many of us may need to be reminded.