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Saturday, January 30, 2016

First Amendment Not A Shield Against Criticism For Cuba Trip

Ten New Jersey State Assemblymembers traveled briefly to Cuba this past week and are getting blasted for it. But one of the targets thinks the Bill of Rights provides him with a "safe space" from criticism.

One of the members, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, denounced his critics by saying, "It's disappointing some people in the Cuban-American community want to stifle our rights of free speech and free association." 

It is disappointing, to put it mildly, to have any elected official impute dark motives to anyone questioning his positions, statements or actions. The claim that one's critics want to "deny me my rights" is as insidious as it is flatly overused. 

There is no right to be insulated or immunized against criticism. That would actually require the type of law expressly prohibited by the Framers of the Constitution when they enacted the First Amendment.

Assemblyman Gusciora needs a brief constitutional law primer. The First Amendment prohibits government interference with the rights of free speech and free association. This is what it says:

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. (Emphasis added)

It says nothing about protecting people from unwanted criticism. In fact, invoking the First Amendment when one is criticized is a backdoor way of asserting a privilege to speak and act with immunity from criticism. That position, incidentally, requires prohibiting the freedom of speech of one's critics.

If one is to serve the public, one should be strong enough to withstand criticism (fairly or unfairly) without resorting to unconstitutional remedies.

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