Outrageous! But it could never happen in this country, could it?
Posted by Ed Folsom, March 31, 2023.
A Russian father, Alexei Moskalyov, was convicted and sentenced to 2 years in prison on Tuesday for his social media postings criticizing Russia’s war against Ukraine (story here). Moskalyov’s 13-year-old daughter was previously removed from his custody and placed in an orphanage after she drew attention to the family unit with an antiwar drawing she made at her school. Moskalyov’s criminal conviction and his daughter’s removal from his custody are outrageous. Neither of those things could ever happen to anyone in this Country over disagreement with official government policy, right?
During World War I, Woodrow Wilson’s Justice Department convicted more than 1,000 people under the Sedition Act (a 1918 amendment to the 1917 Espionage Act), which criminalized speech including expressions of disloyalty to the U.S. Government and interference in its war effort. President Wilson was “mak[ing] the world safe for democracy.” He had no patience for speech that impeded his progress toward this historically inevitable end.
The U.S. Supreme Court initially had no first amendment qualms with Sedition Act prosecutions. For instance, in Schenck v. United States (1919), the defendant was prosecuted for circulating anti-draft leaflets. The Supreme Court rejected Schenck’s claim of first amendment protections, on grounds that the prohibited speech presented a “clear and present danger” of “the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.” Schenck spent 6 months in the can.
Writing for the Court, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., famously remarked, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.” This line has often since been bastardized, including by President Biden, to argue that there is no first amendment protection for anyone who yells “fire” in a crowded theater (What if there’s a fire?), and that whatever the bastardizer seeks to control or eliminate equates to yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.
But our government would never take a person’s child away for expressing beliefs that contravene official government policy, right? — Certainly not unless those actions create a grave danger. Putin and company could surely explain the grave danger that Moskalyov placed his daughter in by expressing his unenlightened, socially harmful views. But not our government. No way. We’ve got the Constitution.
The more you know…
Reflecting on Soviet evils, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn observed, “To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good, or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law.”
The greater good seems to be a limitless source of self-deception for the righteous.
P.S. For a glimpse into the mindset of Soviet officialdom, I love the bit Solzhenitsyn relates, in Volume 1 of The Gulag Archipelago, about the 1942 trial of one Strakhovitch in the military tribunal of the Leningrad Military District. Apparently, it was just too much for Strakovitch to be accused at trial of being recruited by one Ignatovsky (that particular day’s chief enemy of the people) when Strakhovitch would have been only 10 years old. As Solzhenitsyn tells it, Strakhovitch cried out to the judge, “But I could not have been recruited by Ignatovsky when I was only ten years old!” To which, the judge retorted: “Don’t slander the Soviet intelligence service!”
Such is the headway one can expect to make when arguing with a leftist who’s doing justice.