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To the Editor: As a writer for just over 60 years, I am a dedicated advocate of the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution. I will defend your and my right to free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, etc., to my last breath. At the same time, those freedoms and rights come with presumed responsibilities, and I will — and do — speak out when those responsibilities are evaded and infringed upon. Given the tragic events on Wednesday, January 6th in Washington, D. C., and their ties to Vermont and Bennington County, I did some research to remind myself of those responsibilities.

According to Eugene Volokh, professor of law, UCLA School of Law, and founder and co-author of the Volokh Conspiracy blog, “ … The freedoms of speech, of the press, of assembly, and to petition — discussed here together as ‘freedom of expression’ — broadly protect expression from governmental restrictions. Thus, for instance, the government may not outlaw antiwar speech, speech praising violence, racist speech, pro-communist speech, and the like.”

But, he goes on to explain, “ … a few narrow categories of speech are not protected from government restrictions. The main such categories are incitement, defamation, fraud, obscenity, child pornography, fighting words, and threats. As the Supreme Court held in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), the government may forbid ‘incitement’ — speech ‘directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action’ and ‘likely to incite or produce such action’ (such as a speech to a mob urging it to attack a nearby building). But speech urging action at some unspecified future time may not be forbidden” (www.britannica.com).

If I read this correctly, Donald Trump and his followers can’t be held responsible for "speech praising violence" or their misogynistic speech, but they can for "inciting or producing imminent lawless action … to attack a nearby building [which resulted in five deaths] …." If so, the busload of Vermonters who went to DC should be held accountable, too. At least Luke Hall, the Vermont State Police sergeant who encouraged such actions on Twitter, was suspended. Now he needs to be fired.

I wish Donald Trump could be fired. Many members of Congress are trying, though I don’t know what good it will do, except to keep him from ever running for political office again. It would be better if he resigned, but we all know he won’t. So much for responsibility.

Genie Rayner,

Bennington


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