“ ‘Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.’ That this Amendment was intended to secure to every citizen an absolute right to speak, or write, or print, whatever he might please without any responsibility, public or private, therefore, is a supposition too wild to be indulged by any rational man. This would allow every citizen a right to destroy at his pleasure the reputation, the peace, the property, and even the personal safety of every other citizen.” – Joseph Story, 1833, U.S. Supreme Court Justice, a father of American jurisprudence.

Too often the constitutional right to freedom of the press and freedom of speech have been misinterpreted to protect irresponsible and even irrational exercises of personal vindictive prerogatives. Without the requirement of accountability for what one has said or written, Joseph Story warned in another place that reckless freedom would become the scourge of the republic, first denouncing the principles of true liberty, and then, by rendering even virtuous people as offensive through the terrors of false information and slander, introducing despotism in its worst form.

James Kent: “Every citizen might freely speak, write, and print, on any subject, [but is] responsible for the abuse of that liberty. Without such a check, the press, in the hands of evil and designing men, would become a most formidable engine as mighty for mischief as for good.” A society that cannot rely on the truth from its media, its governing officials, or in courts of law is in danger of unraveling at its very roots.

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