Qualifying the First Amendment?
When East Providence taxpayer Tom Riley spoke during the Public Comment segment of Tuesday’s School Committee meeting, members of the NEA and other unions from around the state boo’ed and shouted him down. (It should be noted that Mr. Riley would, nevertheless, have carried on with his remarks but the School Committee determined that the volume and ferocity of this reaction required the termination of the meeting.) Asked later about Mr. Riley’s rights of free speech, the East Providence teachers union asserted that a lack of accuracy on the part of the speaker was the reason for this coarse and abusive interruption.
Parenthetically, a list of the inaccuracies in Mr. Riley’s comments would be appreciated. Does someone, anyone dispute, for example, that the selection process for layoffs, if they occur, will be “last hired, first fired” as asserted by Mr. Riley?
The First Amendment to the American Constitution provides the legal definition of free speech.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
So the teachers union proposes to amend, formally or informally, this definition to include accuracy of content?
If this is so, my concern is not for Mr. Riley. His comments Tuesday night would have easily passed such a new and more stringent standard. My concern would be for the speechifying ability of the teachers union. This would be endangered on two fronts as a result of the proposed new standard. Firstly, of course, the union has made statements which are erroneous to the point of absurdity. Secondly, however, this new standard would almost certain preclude what appears to be a communication staple of the East Providence teachers union: statements which include incomplete facts or facts presented out of context.
On that basis, other than pure statements of opinion and simple, unadorned requests, wouldn’t the East Providence teachers union only silence itself with its proposed modification to the definition of free speech?