“What was a man for but to serve Caesar?” is how one writer described Rome under Tiberius. This has been the place of the majority of the estimated 107 billion human beings who have lived on this Earth.
But today we celebrate the day when 1,776 years after the birth of Christ, men gathered to found a country based on the idea that our rights, which are inalienable, do not come from our leaders or government. And our leaders only have limited power because we consent to it.
One of the most important rights we can exercise is our right to speech. In its 1776 Declaration of Rights, the Virginia legislature included that “the freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic Governments.” The First Amendment reads that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” The amendment is worded to assert that the right isn’t being granted–it already exists.
The Framers understood the importance of free speech. Colonists had lived as subjects of the King and his law of seditious libel. This basically criminalized the act of criticizing the government. As Anthony Lewis wrote in Freedom for the Thought That We Hate, “If you published something critical–a charge, say, that an official had taken a bribe–it did you no good to prove that the statement was true. Truth was no defense to a charge of seditious libel. The crime lay in reducing public respect for the official, so a truthful criticism might be even worse than a false one.”
For most of this country’s history, the speech of Americans has been protected by the First Amendment. It is no secret that Robert Germino and I have enjoyed this liberty by criticizing politicians of all stripes. As for backlash, Rob would get shunned at public events sometimes. I’d get questions like what the big fuss was about.
We’ve criticized Reggie Spinello and Ralph Suozzi–they’ve never attempted to shut down or silence our speech. We’ve never had our website hacked and infected with malware. We’ve never received “cease and desist” letters in the mail. And there’s more that we haven’t revealed yet.
What’s bizarre about the allegations that we’ve “defamed” members of the Gallo campaign is that we have not published untruths about them. They know this. Our recent articles have been about their actions we absolutely know to be true.
So when Efraim Spagnoletti asserted that we had defamed him when we published “Spagnoletti’s Response Raises New Question,” he implied that the truth is libel. Under the King, the truth was libel. Spagnoletti would likely hold the most influence should Councilman Anthony Gallo win his race for mayor. Would the truth be libel under a Gallo administration?
When Jack Vilella retained an attorney to “investigate and take legal action against you for making unwarranted and defamatory attacks and slanderous, untrue claims” what we interpreted is that he holds the truth to be libel. Under the King, the truth was libel. Gallo attempted to nominate Vilella for City Attorney at the start of his second term. Would the truth be libel under a Gallo administration?
After the celebrations and fireworks this Independence Day, we hope that Glen Covers ask themselves if the Declaration of Independence still means what it says. The Bill of Rights? Independent thinkers cannot avoid answering this question.
Because should the truth become libel, what would a man be for but to support Gallo or Spagnoletti?