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Chapter 15: Censorship threatens freedom

“Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself.” —U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart

 “A government by secrecy benefits no one. It injures the people it seeks to serve; it damages its own integrity and operation. It breeds distrust, dampens the fervor of its citizens and mocks their loyalty.” —U.S. Senator Russell B. Long 

What’s wrong with censorship

  • All-powerful government. People who entrust the government with the power of censorship give up the only means they have to ensure a “government of, for, and by the people.” Dictatorships often emerge when the government holds the power to censor.
  • Political or military secrets? Too many Americans are willing to accept political censorship, often confusing the issue with the legitimate need for some secrets during wartime. It’s important to distinguish between the two.

How to fix the problems with censorship

  • Safeguard freedom of speech and press. Political censorship can’t be tolerated in a free society. People must have the right to voice their opinions, no matter how unpopular those opinions may be. There is little harm in letting those voices be judged in the court of public opinion and much potential harm if they cannot be heard. History proves that governments can never be trusted to decide what the people can and cannot be permitted to know.
  • Be suspicious of any censorship. Even in times of war, citizens should be wary of government censorship. It’s far too easy for the government and its military to extend censorship far beyond what is actually necessary—often to cover their own butts, hide their mistakes, or misrepresent their real motives. Besides, a more enlightened approach to America’s military involvement around the world should limit the need for war secrets. (For more details, see the chapter titled “National Security.”)
  • Protect whistle-blowers. Whistle-blowers are essential in a free society. Citizens should be quick to protest when the government tries to prosecute whistle-blowers because it is usually an attempt to silence government critics or hide the truth from the public. (See also the chapter titled “Citizens.”)

“Censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion…In the long run it will create a generation incapable of appreciating the difference between independence of thought and subservience.” —American historian Henry Steele Commager 

 “Sometimes sunlight is the best disinfectant.” —U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

 “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.” — American founder and orator, Patrick Henry

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