When James Madison drafted the First Amendment — “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech” — he made sure to use the article “the” in front of the word “freedom.” What seemed normal to him and superfluous to moderns was actually a profound signal that has resonated for 227 years. The signal was that because the freedom of speech existed before the government that was formed to protect it came into existence, it does not have its origins in government.
The freedom of speech has its origins in our humanity. It is a natural right. It exists in the absence of government. By the exercise of normal human reasoning, all rational people are drawn to exercise this freedom. Madison understood this. He could have written, “Congress shall grant freedom of speech.” He did not because that freedom is not Congress’ to grant or to abridge.
I am presenting this thumbnail sketch of the historical and philosophical underpinnings of the freedom of speech by way of background to a hot dispute now raging off the front pages. The dispute addresses whether the president of the United States can use federal courts to block the exercise of this right. CBS News wants to air an interview with an adult-film actress who alleges a sexual relationship with Donald Trump — a relationship he denies — and President Trump wants to prevent the airing.
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The actress, whose stage name is Stormy Daniels, signed an agreement in October 2016 to accept $130,000 in return for remaining silent about her alleged sexual relationship with Trump, which she claims occurred shortly after the birth of his son Barron, who is now almost…