Strong: No right is absolute

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“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.”

— First Amendment, U.S. Constitution.

“As with any Constitutional right, the Supreme Court has ruled that no right is absolute … The same goes with the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has already ruled that at least five specific areas — commercial speech, defamation (libel and slander), speech that may be harmful to children, speech broadcast on radio and television, and public employees’ speech — do not warrant full protection.”

— Care2 Report, Jan. 25, 2014

Constitution Day is Sept. 17. This commemorates the day in 1787 that delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia signed the Constitution they had just written. The Constitution is the foundation of our government. It describes the duties and responsibilities of the government toward its citizens.

Several delegates were concerned that individual liberties were not protected in the Constitution, so they wrote what became the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. These clarify the protections Americans enjoy. They were ratified on Dec. 15, 1791. The First Amendment, with its five vital rights, is one of the most revered.

One of those rights is freedom of speech, which the government may not abridge or curtail. People sometimes think that freedom of speech allows them to say anything, anywhere, under any circumstances. This is not true.

The classic example is that someone can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. (Schenck v. United States, 1919). On Oct. 25, 2022, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito “noted that the First Amendment doesn't protect all speech, including ‘extortion and threats,’ (and) defamation.” (Reason, Oct. 27, 2022)

This is important because former President Donald Trump has been threatening people involved in his multiple indictments and trials. In response, two of the judges presiding over his trials, Judge Chutkan in Washington, D.C., and Judge Engoron in New York, issued gag orders basically telling Trump he may not threaten court staff or witnesses.

Neither judge has restricted Trump’s right to attack rival presidential candidates or platforms. He is free to criticize the Justice Department and express his ideas about the cases against him. “In her Monday (Oct. 16) ruling, Chutkan said Trump is allowed to criticize the Justice Department generally and assert his claims of innocence and his claims that the case is politically motivated. But she said his statements smearing prosecutors and likely witnesses have crossed a line and could spur his supporters to threaten or harass his targets.”

“The judge (Engoron) overseeing Trump’s civil fraud trial in New York earlier this month issued a more limited gag order prohibiting personal attacks against court personnel following a social media post from Trump that maligned the judge’s principal clerk.” (Reno Gazette Journal, Oct. 21)

Trump complains that the gag orders are keeping him from campaigning. He hasn’t explained why threatening people is crucial to his campaign. As Judge Engoron wrote, “In the current overheated climate, incendiary untruths can, and in some cases already have, led to physical harm, and worse.” (CBS News, Oct. 20)

Ironically, Trump wants to claim Constitutional protection for smearing people while he shows contempt for the Constitution with his own actions.

He wants to be able to sue anyone who attacks him. He calls any news that doesn’t praise him “fake news” and wants news outlets prosecuted, showing his contempt for freedom of the press. “They are a true threat to Democracy and are, in fact, THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE! The Fake News Media should pay a big price for what they have done to our once great Country!” (Truth Social, Sept. 24)

And Trump has shown he’d like to trash the Constitution completely. On Dec. 3, 2022, while repeating his lies about the 2020 election being stolen, he stated on his Truth Social site that “A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.” He clearly places his ambition and ego above following the foundational governing document of our country.

Every year around Sept. 17 the Churchill County Democrats donate pocket Constitutions to the 7th graders at Churchill County Middle School. They do this because they believe that everyone should understand and respect what the Constitution says. Maybe they need to send a copy to Trump.

Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Foundation award-winning columnist. She may be reached at


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