Sunday, August 23, 2009

Memo to whom it may concern: the "art community" has no "special rights" under the First Amendment

A poster at Reason opines that artists have a duty to question authority because the First Amendment gives the art community, as "counterpart" to the press, special rights (or, in other words, singles out artists for specific attention).

Um, no. The First Amendment, in relevant part, reads: "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...."

Nothing about special rights for artists, and as far as I'm aware the Supreme Court has not interpreted the First Amendment as giving artistic expression any higher level of protection than that afforded to speech generally. Law school was a long time ago, but my recollection is that speech deemed commercial can be somewhat more easily regulated than political speech, and that artistic and literary expression is also (with the exception for obscenity) at the core of the First Amendment. But special rights for artists, because they are "counterparts" of members of the press? No. You can still argue, of course, that artists have a duty to criticize those in power, but any such duty cannot convincingly be rooted in the U.S. Constitution or the system of checks and balances. The press as an intended check on government power, yes. Artists as an intended check on government power -- I don't think so.

[Hat tip: The House of Substance]

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