By Scott Tibbs, July 2, 2009
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. -- The First Amendment
The new "Transformers" movie was released last week, based on the 1980's cartoon that was based on a line of toys. Transformers was one of several such cartoons, one of which (G. I. Joe) will also have a movie later this summer. What is interesting is that those types of cartoons were actually illegal in the 1970's. It was illegal to make a cartoon based on a toy line.
Then Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980. President Reagan, unlike far too many people at all levels of government, was actually literate and could see that the literal, word for word text of the First Amendment did not place speech into separate categories, protecting some forms of speech and not protecting other forms of speech. President Reagan then gutted the regulations and restored protections for commercial speech that never should have been removed in the first place and were never legally valid.
President Reagan's defense of free speech had a significant effect on the popular culture that continues to this day, with the movies being released based on popular 1980's cartoons. But it's also worth considering the economic impact of President Reagan's policy. How many jobs did President Reagan create just by allowing these cartoons to be made? This includes not only the people involved in drawing, producing and doing voice acting for the cartoons, but also the people who were making the toys, shipping the toys around the country, marketing the toys and so forth.
Free speech is a fundamental right and must be protected from those in government who would wish to restrict it for their own personal agenda. In this society, free speech is the primary means of holding government accountable and exposing bad behavior by politicians. Commercial speech may not seem important to some, but once the precedent is established that government can restrict some speech, that precedent can then be used to restrict other speech. This is why free speech must be vigorously defended and why President Reagan deserves praise.
There is another important reason why President Reagan's policy was needed. The ban on cartoons based on toy lines was always illegal. That is clear to anyone reading the literal, word-for-word text of the First Amendment, text that needs no "interpretation" and is simple enough for anyone to comprehend. Government simply cannot be allowed to break the law, because the rule of law is critical for the preservation of our freedoms. A government that ignores the rule of law is far more dangerous to our liberty than any terrorist or foreign aggressor could ever be.