A Speech in Lafayette Park, February 10, 1996

As soon as the CDA passed, Tom Edwards, a graduate student at the University of Maryland, organized a protest in Lafayette Park opposite the White House. About 100 people showed up. I was one of seven speakers; some of the others were a staffer from Rep. Gerrold Nadler's office, Jonah Seiger from the Center for Democracy and Technology, and Justin Hall of Justin's Links to the Underground. Here's what I said:

The first couple of times I attended demonstrations in Washington were in 1970 and '71. In '71, I rolled my sleeping bag out next to the Reflecting Pool on May Day weekend. I was the only kid on my block not to get arrested that weekend, and I couldn't hold my head up around Midwood High School for a couple of weeks. Is there anyone else here who was there that weekend? [One man raised his hand.] I thought you looked familiar.

Well, I don't know how do much time passed, and how I got so old, but I have never felt so strongly about anything else since then until the Communications Decency Act. Twenty-five years of being half asleep, and now an opportunity to stand up again.

I write and edit a newsletter called The Ethical Spectacle, which covers the intersection, or collision, of ethics, law and politics in our society. I write essays that have been called "pedantic"--they are pedantic and yet indecent under the incredibly broad and vague terms of the CDA.

They are indecent because they "describe sexual or excretory acts or organs." I compiled a collection of materials on Auschwitz, which included some documents on human experimentation. I wrote an issue called "Humans and Their Pornography", where I described the pictures for which the Amateur Action sysops were convicted and I quoted the explicit words of anti-porn crusader Catherine MacKinnon. In an issue on freedom of speech I wrote an essay on indecency which discusses the Seven Dirty Words case--and lists the seven words.

Mark Mangan mentioned the idea that cyberspace is a constellation of printing presses and bookstores. Imagine for a moment that you were in your community bookstore and someone waved a magic wand and all the books that infringed the CDA's "depicts or describes" standard vanished. Those shelves would be half or two thirds empty. Along with the trash, great works of literature would be gone. Books of biology and science would be gone. Even the Bible--with the Song of Solomon and other passages--would be gone.

I have a few words to say to the Christian Coalition. The world I live in, that I want to live in, is a world of pluralism and diversity--the "pluralistic world of small communicators", as Ithiel Pool said. There is room for you, the Christian Coalition, in my world. Is there room for me in yours? If you win this one, are you going to allow me to live in your Christian nation?

In order to be a nation, we must have something in common, something we share. If we disagree on welfare, on abortion, if we have nothing in common but a commitment to freedom of speech, we are still a nation. But if we cannot agree on the freedom of speech, then we have nothing in common.

I have a few words to say to the press. Those of you who get most of your information from TV and radio are getting it from a censored medium. Wednesday, at the ACLU press conference, I stood next to a journalist I respect and admire, Brock Meeks, who used some profanity in talking to the press--the major networks and CNN were there. And they looked taken aback and one reporter said,"Come on Brock, you know we can't run that." He said, "You know, we have been living under these rules"--the same rules as the CDA would impose--"for years." The unspoken next words were: "Why shouldn't you?....Why shouldn't you?" Well, I am sorry you have chains, but that does not mean I must put on chains too.

I saw the CNN coverage that night, and I was very disappointed that the lead in was a photo of computer pornography. They referred to "cybersmut", as does most of the coverage. I DON'T WRITE SMUT.

Not one of the newspapers covering us has gotten this story right. Most of them missed the Hyde amendment. "Cybersmut" is the angle.

More and more, I get my news from the Internet. I do my data mining on the unmediated Internet. I drill down to the truth on the Internet.

I have a few words for President Clinton and Vice President Gore. [I turned to face the White House.] I watched the press conference at which you signed the Telecommunications Act. I watched Vice President Gore, who I had always admired, stiffly joking with Lily Tomlin, who I also used to admire, and through the mounting nausea, I realized: freedom of speech is not your issue. Well, freedom of speech is everyone's issue. Without the freedom of speech, there are no issues. It is the cornerstone of all our liberties.

I have a few words for Speaker Gingrich. Last summer, you went on television twice and said the CDA was unconstitutional. You were right. You had the vision to see and speak the truth. Where have you been since then? You are the most powerful man in Congress-- you had the ability to stop this thing dead in its tracks. Where were you? Where were you?

I have a few words for the rest of Congress, who voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Telcom bill. Some of you privately told us, "Don't worry, the courts will take care of this thing--they'll throw it out." That's like allowing a gunman over here to fire a bullet at someone over there saying, "Its OK--he's wearing a bullet proof vest." You used our freedom of speech as a bargaining chip, to get something else you wanted. It was shameful. Freedom of speech is not a luxury. It is not something, like ice cream, that we will have later, if we are well behaved, if it is convenient, if we can afford it. Freedom of speech is oxygen. Without it, there is nothing else.

I want to read you a few words from the Founders. By the way, if you need another indicator to detect a demagogue, in addition to the indicators you already use; a demagogue says, "The Founders didn't stay up all night drafting the Bill of Rights in order to protect _________." You fill in the blank.

The Founders wrote this in 1791:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

In closing, I want to say that we should all take a stand with Supreme Court justice Hugo Black, a free speech absolutist who said, in interpreting the First Amendment, that "'no law' means no law." No law means no law.