James Madison, Jr., fourth President of the United States (1809–1817), is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for being the primary author of the United States Constitution and the author of the Bill of Rights. Amendment 1.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference. See U.S. Const. amend. I. Freedom of expression consists of the rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly and to petition the government for a redress of grievances, and the implied rights of association and belief. The Supreme Court interprets the extent of the protection afforded to these rights. The First Amendment has been interpreted by the Court as applying to the entire federal government even though it is only expressly applicable to Congress. Furthermore, the Court has interpreted, the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as protecting the rights in the First Amendment from interference by state governments. See U.S. Const. amend. XIV.
The most basic component of freedom of expression is the right of freedom of speech. The right to freedom of speech allows individuals to express themselves without interference or constraint by the government. The Supreme Court requires the government to provide substantial justification for the interference with the right of free speech where it attempts to regulate the content of the speech. A less stringent test is applied for content-neutral legislation. The Supreme Court has also recognized that the government may prohibit some speech that may cause a breach of the peace or cause violence. For more on unprotected and less protected categories of speech see advocacy of illegal action, fighting words, commercial speech and obscenity. The right to free speech includes other mediums of expression that communicate a message. The level of protection speech receives also depends on the forum in which it takes place.
The right to freedom of speech is one of our most cherished and valuable rights. The right to speak freely without interference or fear of reprisal does not apply only to government, it is a right that prohibits anyone, even a bishop, from interfering with the right of a person, whether they be a priest, a deacon, a religious or a lay Catholic from speaking. The only exception to this is when a person speaks heresy. The canons of the Church’s Code of Canon Law provide for disciplinary punishment for any Catholic that speaks in opposition to truth, either as divinely revealed or as contained the the magisterial teaching of the Church.
Freedom of speech is under attack from all quarters today, most evident in the efforts of liberals to suppress political speech of conservatives. It is attacked by liberal judges with increasing frequency as they penalize persons for uttering anything that resembles ‘hate speech’, that is, speech that criticizes the agenda of the LGBT activists to promote homosexuality, same-sex marriage, etc.
It is something new and frightening if a bishop seeks to suppress the freedom of speech of priests, deacons, religious or laity in his diocese that does not fall under the canonical prohibition of heretical speech. The power of a bishop to suppress freedom of speech is awesome. In the case of priests, deacons and religious a bishop can, for instance, order the individual to undergo psychiatric evaluation in a center like Splendora Center in Houston. The individual is in danger of bringing down a canonical penalty, such as suspension of faculties, if the individual refuses to undergo psychiatric evaluation.
It is a new and dangerous world in which we now live.