Using ‘Free Speech’ to Trump Civil Rights

By Garrett Epps

In “Chicken Heart,” the most famous episode of Arch Oboler’s 1930s radio series, “Lights Out,” scientists in Chicago keep a chicken’s heart alive indefinitely—but when a careless lab visitor breaks open the heart’s container, the heart begins to spread … and spread … and spread.

“For some reason I cannot even imagine, this tissue is doubling in size every hour,” one savant tells the authorities. “Do you know what that means? In another hour it will be twice the size it is now, and long before that it will break open the building with the force of its pressure. And then it will be free in the streets—do you hear me, free in the streets! And then those tentacles of protoplasm stretching out to feed on anything they can reach …”

As of this writing, Chicago has not been eaten. But in the last few years, the First Amendment has become a kind of constitutional chicken heart, spreading its tentacles into new areas, growing and growing until it crowds out other areas of the law.

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