Portland Mayor: Let's not get carried away with this whole "free speech" thing

So there’s a Trump Free Speech Rally planned for this Saturday in Portland, Oregon, deep in the heart of one of the bluest, most liberal parts of the country. The group organizing the rally already has a permit for the event, but it’s no longer looking like a sure thing. Using a recent, racist attack on a train as his excuse, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler is calling for the permit to be revoked and the rally to be cancelled because… Trump. (Associated Press)

The mayor of Portland, Oregon, on Monday urged U.S. officials and organizers to cancel a “Trump Free Speech Rally” and other similar events, saying they are inappropriate and could be dangerous after two men were stabbed to death on a train as they tried to help a pair of young women targeted by an anti-Muslim tirade.

Mayor Ted Wheeler said he hopes the victims will inspire “changes in the political dialogue in this country.”…

The federal government has issued a permit for the free-speech rally Saturday and has yet to give a permit for an event June 10. The mayor says his main concern was participants “coming to peddle a message of hatred,” saying hate speech is not protected by the Constitution.

So a rally designed to promote something positive (supporting the President) rather than marching against something is what has the mayor worried about “hate speech” this week. That’s rather ironic considering that the rally is an act of defiance against the actual violence regularly perpetrated by liberal opponents of free speech in places like Berkeley. Citing the murders on the train is even more of a hoot when you consider that the killer, Jeremy Christian, was a supporter of Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein.

But what’s truly alarming about the Mayor’s unhinged and uninformed demands isn’t the obvious hypocrisy so much as the ignorance of basic facts about our democracy. This guy is an elected official in a major city? There have been far too many Democrats (mostly) who have been showing up lately and arguing that so-called “hate speech” isn’t protected under the Constitution. This idea is some of the worst sort of horse-hockey out there and has been repeatedly and thoroughly debunked by people like Eugene Volokh.

I keep hearing about a supposed “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment, or statements such as, “This isn’t free speech, it’s hate speech,” or “When does free speech stop and hate speech begin?” But there is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment. Hateful ideas (whatever exactly that might mean) are just as protected under the First Amendment as other ideas. One is as free to condemn Islam — or Muslims, or Jews, or blacks, or whites, or illegal aliens, or native-born citizens — as one is to condemn capitalism or Socialism or Democrats or Republicans.

The type of ignorance being displayed by Ted Wheeler isn’t just sad… it’s also dangerous. When ideas like that begin to take hold in the mainstream, fundamental liberties begin to erode. What Wheeler seems to have forgotten (assuming he ever knew) is that we don’t have protections for free speech because the founders were worried about citizens being punished for saying popular things. Nobody is going to suppress your opinion about liking puppies because pretty much everyone likes puppies. But when people begin expressing unpopular minority opinions – particularly when they are unpopular with the government – that’s when protection is needed the most. Because when we allow the government (or anyone else for that matter) to say that it’s okay to talk about liking puppies but you will be silenced if you say you hate Muslims, a gray line has been established somewhere between the two. And that line can and will eventually move and it could be you who winds up on the wrong side of it.

But then again, this is Portland we’re talking about. When the motto of your city is Keep Portland Weird I suppose this is the sort of mayor you wind up with.