Free Speech And The First Amendment

Three pens are chained together to signify a control of freedom

May 19, 2017

“Make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” reads the First Amendment. Designed as an address to the US Congress, it sets out a moral code for how the US publishing world should be treated. It also sets a moral precedent for the importance of free speech in the US and the rest of the world. The significance of both will not have been lost on anyone following the current state of affairs in global politics.

The First Amendment’s significance was also noted at the 2017 PEN Literary Gala, held at the Museum of Natural History in New York. Macmillan CEO John Sargent addressed an audience that included author Salman Rushdie (someone who knows a thing or two about the importance of free speech) with his thoughts on publishers’ responsibility to uphold these principles; “Even when the speech needing protection or publication does not align with publishers’ personal politics,” he said.

It is an interesting point. Whether or not a publisher agrees with the musings of an alt-right protagonist for example, doesn’t mean one shouldn’t publish the work – as happened with Milo Yiannopoulos and Simon & Schuster. Or does the same publishers’ ethical responsibility extend to not providing a platform for hate? “There is a steady drumbeat asserting that lines should be drawn,” said Sargent, “that the rising incivility from one side or the other should not be given a megaphone…. But unfortunately the very act of drawing a line, and making that decision, runs counter to our obligation to defend free speech.”

With this in mind, it is significant that First Amendment attorney Michael A. Bamberger is to be honored with the American Booksellers Association’s ‘Joyce Meskis Free Speech’ Award.  His 40 years of service as general counsel of the Media Coalition has seen him successfully challenge federal, state and local laws that “attempted to censor material protected by the First Amendment, including books, magazines, recordings, movies, videos, video games and the Internet,” notes ALA News.

Bamberger’s guiding principle has been freedom of expression – even if that isn’t in line with most people’s notion of taste and decency – as his most famous case Hudnut v. American Booksellers Association showed. The case dealt with challenging a ruling that restricted the degrading pornographic portrayal of women, a ruling that he got overturned. As with Sargent’s point about American Psycho at the PEN Gala, free speech may sometimes be unpleasant, even unpalatable, but it’s still worth fighting for because the alternatives are frankly terrifying.

Amnet Systems fully supports the freedom to publish for all, without exception.