Elon Musk couched his recent purchase of Twitter as a First Amendment issue.
Musk says he wanted to take over the publicly traded Twitter as a private company because the social media giant failed to “adhere to free speech principles,” which he says “fundamentally undermines democracy.”
The First Amendment prohibits the government from moderating what users say on Twitter. It allows Twitter to exist and allows anyone in America to start his or her own social media company – or, as Musk did, to buy his or her own social media company – and run it as they please.
Musk may not have liked what Twitter did before, but the First Amendment wasn’t at risk because of the company’s decisions.
We need not look far in the headlines, however, to find something much more like a threat to the First Amendment: the effort by government officials around America to ban books from public libraries and classrooms.
Municipal boards, school boards, and state education boards around the country – primarily in conservative areas – have taken steps to remove from shelves books that mention critical race theory, racism, gender identity, or sexuality, among other topics.
The book-banning does not specifically violate the First Amendment, which protects the publisher’s rights to publish those books, but does not force any library to carry them.
Those moves do, however, violate the spirit of the amendment, which the Founders wrote to prevent government censorship of the free exchange of ideas.
But that’s democracy.
See, the folks banning books were elected or were appointed by elected officials. They’ve made those decisions in representation of the people who elected them, and it appears many people in the communities served by those elected and appointed officials agree with the decisions.
The best recourse for folks upset by the book-banning is not to yell at school board meetings or write angry letters to city hall, but to get more intimately involved.
First, they should study the candidates who run for school boards, state boards of education, and the municipal boards often in charge of appointing people to serve on the boards for public libraries. Then they should vote for the candidates who most align with their positions.
Too often, those types of races are severely overlooked. Voter turnout in elections without a presidential or gubernatorial race on the ballot falls far behind the more popular statewide and national contests, with local elections usually getting 20% or less turnout, compared to 60% or more turnout in presidential contests.
That has to change.
The book-banning craze happening across the country now shows just how important those seats truly are, and they should get at least as much care as our picks for president, if not more.
If folks upset with their local school board or municipal board’s decision don’t find a candidate they like, they should run, themselves, or at least seek an appointed position on a library board or government committee.
Running for public office is one of the best ways to influence what happens in your community, and more folks ought to do it. You see too many uncontested races in local elections, only to have people later yelling at those who do step up.
In places where books have been banned, I hope people do step up, voting out the censors or running against them, because book-banning is just plain un-American.
Yes, we should ensure we offer age-appropriate material to our kids, but I see nothing wrong with some of the pulled books except the government in that area doesn’t like what they have to say.
And no book short of outright pornography should get pulled from a public library, where people of all ages can go to learn.
If Musk really cared about free speech, instead of buying Twitter, he’d donate millions to public libraries on the condition they accept all kinds of books so we might all have access to a well-rounded education.
Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-354-3112 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.