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Column | Freedoms not immune to scrutiny or limitation

Editor’s note: the Metro Wire reached out to State Senator Patrick Testin and Rep. Katrina Shankland on the same day seeking their thoughts on the First Amendment and the power of social media, as both are residents of Portage Co. Testin’s office did not respond. 

By Rep. Katrina Shankland

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes
responsibility.”

Since our founding, the freedoms provided by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution have helped define and shape our nation. We cherish these freedoms and honor those who fought to defend them. These freedoms are not immune to scrutiny or limitation, however.

For example, speech is restricted when it is a true threat or if it incites violence or other illegal action. We each bear personal responsibility for the words we speak and the actions we take.

Our elected officials have an additional duty to uphold our democracy and the Constitution, and it is vital to the health of our nation that we conduct ourselves responsibly in our roles and with respect for the examples we set.

I do my best to be straightforward and fact-check the information I share, and I hold the Fourth Estate in high regard for their work in ensuring government transparency.

Alarmingly, over the past few years, we’ve seen consistent misinformation distributed and amplified by high-ranking officials and a gradual emboldening of individuals and groups who use freedom of speech as a cover for conspiracy theories and anti-democratic sentiment that have incited violence.

Over the past several months, we’ve watched as a propaganda campaign cast unnecessary doubt on our freely- and fairly-conducted election, while politicians fanned the flames and cheered on those who threatened a “civil war” if our election results weren’t overturned. When this dangerous rhetoric culminated in the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, we watched in horror as the propaganda campaign succeeded.

This is a critical moment for our country. We must see the events of January 6 as a call to action to preserve and strengthen our democracy, and we must work together to course-correct. There is no place for false equivalency and “whataboutism” here.

Our Constitution does not protect seditionists and insurrectionists, and they must be held fully accountable, along with those who incited them. Ultimately, our identity as a nation is a reflection of the sum of our individual actions. Power without responsibility can lead our country down a tenuous path.

We will all benefit if we honor the responsibility of protecting our democracy and upholding our Constitutional freedoms. We must meet this moment with the gravity, urgency, and moral character it demands.

Love of country must come first.

Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) represents Portage County in the Wisconsin State Assembly.