Fee Speech

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The heavy-handed tactics used recently by police against G20 protesters in Pittsburgh has Constitutionalists up in arms once again about the government's infringement upon the human right of free speech, which is protected by the First Amendment. If anyone knows anything about America, it is supposedly this—all Americans have the right to free speech.

But just when, exactly, are we justified in exercising this right? Is every American permitted to say whatever he wants, whenever he wants, wherever he happens to be?

Can I come into your home and read aloud The Ethics of Liberty from cover to cover while you have no recourse but to submit to my demand? Can I organize a peaceful assembly at the 50-yard line of Soldier Field during the middle of a professional football game? Can I march into an NBC studio and demand that they break into programming so I can petition the government for a redress of grievances?

I assume you answered in the negative for the above three questions. But what is the common denominator in the justification for "denying free speech" in each of those questions?

The common denominator is property rights.

The right to freedom of speech is completely dependent upon property rights. I do not have the inalienable right to say whatever I want if I am standing in your house. Soldier Field and NBC studios are also private properties wherein permission must be granted from the property owners in order for others to use their facilities to "exercise free speech."

Individual property rights are absolutely essential to free speech. If you have no place to stand upon the face of the Earth that is yours, then you cannot exercise your inalienable right to free speech without the permission of the owner of whatever property on which you find yourself. And any such "rights" given by permission can be rescinded at any time.

But what about public property? Isn't that supposedly "owned" by everyone?

That's what they say, but this nonsensical, communistic ownership concept absolutely fails to guarantee free speech.

You say we all own the sidewalk and street in front of city hall? Really? Then how do I get permission from the other property owners (everyone who is not me) in order to protest on the public land outside of city hall?

Do I need everyone's permission? In that case, no protest will take place.

Do I just need the majority? Then the minority aren't really owners, since they cannot do what they wish with their own property.

Or do I need no one else's permission? Can I do whatever I like on the sidewalk and street because I "own" a miniscule fraction of them?

Hint: None of the above.

Our solution to public property is to give the responsibility for maintaining these commons to government bureaucrats (GBs). We don't get to vote on how each piece of commons will be utilized each and every hour of each and every day'we instead elect GBs to handle that responsibility.

Now the intended use for sidewalks and streets is for people to travel from Point A to Point B. If a giant sinkhole were to open up in front of city hall and swallow a big chunk of sidewalk and street, the public would certainly demand that the GBs repair it so it could be returned to its functional state.

When GBs see a public demonstration clogging the sidewalk and street, they view it the same as a sinkhole: "Our job is to keep these transportation corridors open and functional, and so we must act to restore their intended functionality."

This is all perfectly reasonable. They are paid with tax dollars to do exactly that. If they give preferential treatment to some groups over others or allow for sidewalks and streets to be used for something other than their intended function, then they are not fulfilling their duties. The lowest common denominator must be satisfied, because everyone is paying for the public land, and so everyone must be given the same service.

Of course the practical end result of this is that the government in effect owns the public commons. If you wish to exercise free speech on its property, you must have its permission. You have no inalienable right to speak your mind on public property, because it is not yours.

Please let that sink in. "I helped pay for the sidewalk" is NOT equivalent to "I own the sidewalk." "We all own the sidewalk" is NOT equivalent to "I own the sidewalk." And if you don't own the sidewalk, James Madison, then you have no inalienable rights to exercise there.

Now let's move back to "private" property. Consider the citizens who "own" property in the form of land—all paid off with title stashed away in the safety deposit box down at the bank. Surely they can enjoy their human right to exercise free speech on their own land, can't they?

Well, actually, no. In this country, all land is rented from the government. If property taxes (rents) are not paid, then the government can exercise its ownership prerogative upon the land and eject the tenants. The government also holds the Eminent Domain card. There is no such thing as private land in the United States.

So you see, property tax is the fee charged by the government for the "land owners" of our country to engage in "free speech" upon "their land." This is not free speech, but rather "fee speech." You can say whatever you want while you sit on your couch as long as you keep paying the government for the privilege to do so. This is your very own little "Fee Speech Zone" that you have temporarily leased from the government.

There is no free speech for you in the United States of America, because you have no place to stand within its borders that you can call your own. You must ask or pay for government permission to speak (and work, and travel, and—but I digress...). As witnessed on the streets of Pittsburgh, the government can exercise its prerogative to restrict, throttle, and forbid fee speech on its property, and you, my friend, are on government property right now.

Fee speech is all you've ever had.

You can have a government, or you can have inalienable rights. Choose one, but then please, do not complain that you do not have the other.

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Columnist tzo
Columns on STR: 64

tzo now lives in your head.