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Dr. Laura, Bible Spice, and the First Amendment

By Marc J. Randazza

Yesterday’s post about Dr. Laura was not a First Amendment post. It was a post about a cultural issue, not a legal issue. However, I got a persuasive email from a friend who all but demanded that I address the First Amendment “issue” in the story. I just wanted to ignore Dr. Laura’s claim that she “wanted her First Amendment rights back.”

But Venkat Balasubramani knows how to push my buttons! He sent me this:

UR a retard KthxBai!

Dr. Laura isn’t the first one to try and bamboozle us by crying “First Amendment,” when the First Amendment just doesn’t belong in the picture.

A number of years ago, I was on South Beach with Jennifer. She was sunbathing topless, which is normal on South Beach. Some perv walked by with a camera, and did a little behind-the-back maneuver — trying to surreptitiously snap a photo of her. When I got up and confronted him, he actually said that he had a “First Amendment right” to take photos there, since it was a public place.

He was absolutely right. The First Amendment protects his right to take photographs in a public place.

For that reason, I did not call the police. I just beat the shit out of him until he gave up his camera, and then I threw his camera into the ocean.

No First Amendment problem there.

What people need to understand is that the First Amendment protects you from the government. The First Amendment does not exempt you from an ass kicking from your fellow citizens.

And that is an important lesson to learn. Dr. Laura deserved to have her ass kicked, metaphorically speaking. She is a bigot. She is an asshole. She is a charlatan. She is divisive. She is hateful. Her speech is bad. I find it troubling that despite years of proof of all of those things, the one thing that finally created a surge of anti-Schlesinger sentiment was that she dared to utter the magic word, “nigger.” It wasn’t that her terrible ideas were actually rejected by the marketplace – it was her use of the magic word.

I have a problem with that as a cultural issue — but it is not a First Amendment issue.

Both Schlesinger and Sarah Palin don’t have a clue about what the First Amendment means — nor does anyone else who thinks that Dr. Laura’s First Amendment rights are at issue here. No government official called to investigate her. A bunch of vocal assholes decided to exercise their First Amendment rights, put pressure on her advertisers, and my friend takes the correct position that this is the marketplace of ideas working effectively. My friend wrote:

The flip side of the First Amendment is private protest/shaming, etc. She can’t be put in jail, but she can be reviled, and forcefully so. To me, this just seems like the marketplace of ideas in action. You say that the marketplace didn’t reject her, but it seems like you have to take a pretty narrow view of what “the marketplace” is (advertisers/audience vs. the PC police). You’re looking at her actual statement and trying to figure out the context, but the market doesn’t need to be so forgiving, that’s the beauty of it.

This is the credited response.

But I hope that the cultural issue can be separated from the legal issue. As a legal issue, I have no problem with Schelsinger being forced off the air by a screaming mob of idiots. Culturally, I have a beef with shutting down debate by allowing one word to be a game-over-trump-card. That is what happened here. Dr. Laura is not off the air because her ideas are disgusting. She is off the air because she dared to say the magic word.

But, turning back to the First Amendment non-issue: It is important that we put up firewalls to stop the spread of ignorance. (If you listen to Dr. Laura or Sarah Palin, you probably already suffer from terminal and incurable ignorance, but there is always a ray of hope). Dr. Laura’s First Amendment rights were no more suppressed here than those of the asshole perv on South Beach. She exercised her First Amendment rights and she got an ass kicking.

If you’re looking for a First Amendment angle in the Dr. Laura story, there is nothing to see here except the “teachable moment” about what the First Amendment means (and what it does not mean).

Repeat after me:

The First Amendment protects you from the government. The First Amendment does not exempt you from an ass kicking by your fellow citizens.

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