Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat, was condemned online Friday after claiming that rhetoric doubting the integrity of the 2020 presidential election, such as claims that it was “rigged” or “stolen,” is not constitutionally protected speech.
What did Fetterman say?
In a video posted online Friday, Fetterman said, “This idea that saying that Pennsylvania was ‘rigged’ or that we were ‘trying to steal the election,’ that’s a lie.”
“And you do not have the right, that is not protected speech,” Fetterman claimed.
Fetterman, who is reportedly considering a run for the U.S. Senate in 2022, said that Twitter should have immediately removed any tweet from President Donald Trump that questioned the integrity of the election, comparing Trump’s claims to “yelling fire in a crowded theater when there is none.”
“There is a difference. That is not protected speech,” Fetterman doubled down. “He can talk all day about what his favorite football team is or that he’s the greatest president in the history of the world, but no one — Republican, Democrat, or whatever — has the right to say those kind of incendiary lies.”
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman: “This idea that saying that Pennsylvania was ‘rigged’ or that we were ‘trying to steal the election’ — that’s a lie. And you do not have the right, that is not protected speech.” pic.twitter.com/2f2ERSSLXy
— The Hill (@thehill) January 15, 2021
What was the response?
Fetterman’s assertion drew significant attention, with critics pointing out that lies are, in fact, generally protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“Lying is bad. It’s also not the same as truly holding views that most agree are ignorant [‘the earth is flat’]. And most importantly, lying is still generally protected speech. This is why a plurality struck down the Stolen Valor Act as unconstitutional (United States v. Alvarez),” Amy Swearer, a legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, explained.
“Fraud? Not protected. Libel? Not protected. Lying under oath? Not protected. But false statements, writ large? Still protected,” Swearer added.
Journalist Sharyl Attkisson mocked, “WARNING LABEL: ‘This claim is determined to be ridiculously false.’ Signed, US Constitution (Will Twitter take it down? I’m not advocating it do so, just pointing out if they were ‘fact checking’ and treating supposedly false claims fairly; they would.)”
Omri Ceren, national security adviser for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), sarcastically pointed out, “What if the lies about ‘trying to steal the election’ are published and echoed by the republic’s most prominent media outlets, and are repeatedly debunked but nevertheless consistently revived by those outlets quoting anonymous officials, over half a decade? Hypothetically?”