In 44bce, following the death of Julius Cæsar, Mark Anthony wasn’t really impressing people in Rome with his leadership and management. Despite his inspiring speech at Cæsars funeral pyre, he was basically making a pigs breakfast of things.
Opposing him was Cicero. Here was a Constitutionalist, a leader and a man of words. And it was to words which Cicero turned in his very public condemnation and criticism of Anthony. He delivered a series of fourteen speeches, known as the Phillipics, in which he rips Anthony for everything from his management to his dalliances with women (even one beneath his station) and even implies that Anthony might be, just possibly, at least once or maybe twice, homosexual.
For his impertinence and speeches, Cicero will be killed by Anthony. Well… not Anthony himself, he was busy. But some of his men took Cicero’s head and hands, and nailed them to a wall in Rome. There Anthony’s current wife (#3 of at least 4, maybe 5), pulled out his tongue and drove a needle through it.
It seems that free speech criticizing the government was a risky business in the ancient Roman Republic. Anthony himself would also learn that lesson the hard way in a decade or so.
Which brings us to today, in a place about as different from Cicero’s Rome as you can get, the halls of the State Capitol of Utah, located in downtown Salt Lake City. Utah, by the by, is a place with which I was once very familiar, having attended Ogden High School from where I graduated in May of 1981. It (Utah) was deeply influential on me and my views of religious freedoms and tolerance. You may ask how, but that is a discussion for another day, except to simply say that I was not a member of the primary religion in the State.
Here in the State Capitol of Utah, the Legislature has voted unanimously, to ban and to punish speech which it has said is “intended to harass” or even “frighten” or perhaps just “annoy” another person. But going a step further, Utah’s lawmakers have decreed that such speech ONLINE is hereafter, henceforth and forever banned. Don’t even try it. Or else.
The Legislature says that this is to protect “the people” from being “harassed” online, but the interesting things about the bill is that the “people” most likely to be involved in being talked about online are who exactly? Oh yeah… the Legislators themselves.
By the by, Utah is not the first State to try such a law. And while some protections are obvious, there is a further test which the Courts have already designed and applied, which – it appears – Utah hasn’t heard about.
The first one is, of course, that pesky 1st Amendment thingee…