Her Royal Highness Elizabeth, the Queen, to the greatest deliberative body in all the world, the Senate of the United States: “Greetings. Sirs: Privilege of speech is granted you in your deliberations. But I would have you know of what that privilege consists. It is not to speak every word that you choose, or to utter any thought that comes into your brain. Your privilege is to say yes or no. I have spoken.” Signed Elizabeth, Regina.
Queen Elizabeth exercised just exactly that authority over the House of Commons in merry England. And when one Peter Wentworth arose in that august body to question her authority to restrict the speech of free men and to control the Parliament, she clapped him into the Tower of London.
Elizabeth herself had attacked the right of freedom of speech in the House of Commons. Wentworth, with the courage of Elijah before Ahab, and perhaps some of the inspiration, arose to say: “Sweet is the name of liberty; but let us take care lest, contending ourselves with the sweetness of the name, we lose and forego the thing. Two things do great hurt here, one a rumor which runneth about the House: ‘Take heed what you do. The Queen’s Majesty liketh not such a matter. Whosoever preferreth it she will be offended with him!’ the other message sometimes brought into the House, either of commanding or inhibiting. I would to God, Mr. Speaker, that these two were buried in hell. The king hath no peer in the kingdom, but he ought to be under the law, because the law maketh him king.”
But like Ahab, the haughty Elizabeth was not deterred by righteousness of the cause. Said she: “Privilege of speech is granted, but you must know what privilege ye have; not to speak every word what he listeth, or what cometh into his brain to utter; your privilege is ay or no.”
Freedom of speech and of the press are sacred rights which thanks to peter Wentworth and other valiant lovers of liberty have been substantially established in our day in this land. In many other nations it is not so.
To criticize a sovereign who rules as well as reigns is a costly business in any nation and in any age. In Germany, japan, Russia, Spain, Argentina, and a multitude of other nations men do not speak their thoughts freely at any time, nor does the press approach any degree of freedom. To some of us in the United States these rights are taken completely as a matter of fact, and we give them no more concern than we do the air we breathe. There is always a danger that one’s rights will be restricted when they are accepted indifferently and without appreciation.
The invention of printing, a great good, brought with it the fact of censorship, a great evil. This power was first assumed by the clergy, but after the Reformation, in the case of England, the power devolved upon the crown. Censorship was so rigid in England that at one time nearly all printing was prohibited until it had first been “seen, perused and allowed” by the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Bishop of London.
From that early day in England to this day in the United States the curse of censorship has not been entirely lifted either in war or in peace. Few question the necessity to restrict military information in time of war. The right of self-preservation dictates that we not tell our enemies where and what our defenses are. But most people think, and that rightly, that the power of censorship which carries over into civilian agencies is used not to preserve information that would be of aid and comfort to the enemy, but to cover up bungling and inefficiency in governmental administration.
Most federal agencies are authorized to classify information as restricted, confidential or secret. Information so classified may not be revealed to the public or press without incurring severe penalties. It is reputed to be a common practice among civilian agencies of the government to classify in this manner information that the people have a right to know. This, of course, is to avoid bringing discredit upon the agency.
The press is a great guardian of the liberties of the people. The acts of kings and rulers are swayed by the moment that a free press makes about those acts. It was an inquiring reporter who found that there was actually no such document as the Atlantic Charter. A president and a prime minister have been trying to explain what agreement was actually reached ever since. None are too high or too mighty to be above the power of a free press.
A great English statesman declared that the emancipation of the press had “done more for liberty and for civilization than the Great Charter and or the Bill of Rights.”
Elizabeth said, “Privilege of speech is granted.” Elizabeth was wrong. Freedom of speech and of the press are not granted. They belong to the people. They are not privileges only; they are rights. The people’s government cannot regulate them. “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” This is the guarantee of the first Article of the Bill of Rights.
which appeared on the editorial page (page 4) of
The Deseret News, 19 March 1945 through 10 April 1945.