Donald Trump had another big night on Tuesday, winning at least three states, including winner-take-all Florida and its 99 delegates. This despite protesters disrupting Trump rallies in Ohio and Kansas and shutting Trump down in Chicago.
The protests have both pro-Trump and anti-Trump factions invoking the First Amendment. Pro-Trumpers say the protesters are violating Trump's and their own right to free speech. Anti-Trumpers say they are exercising their own. The media are all over the road. The worst assertion is that some sort of "balance" or "compromise" between the two groups' rights is necessary. It isn't.
First, let's get the First Amendment out of the way. There is no way any private citizen can violate the First Amendment. The First Amendment doesn't govern the citizens. It governs the government. It begins, "Congress shall make no law..."
Originally, this restriction applied only to the federal government. Since a 1947 Supreme Court decision, the courts have considered the First Amendment applicable to state governments as well. But in no case does it apply to private citizens. So, let's please dispense with statements that include "violating their First Amendment rights," in relation to Trump, his supporters or their opponents.
The right of free speech doesn't come from the First Amendment. The right preexists the government. The First Amendment merely guarantees the government won't violate it, in keeping with the purpose of government itself, according to the Declaration of Independence: to secure these (natural, preexistent) rights." The First Amendment recognizes the right preexists government explicitly when it says "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech."
We don't talk enough about natural, inalienable rights. "Inalienable" means they can't be taken away, not even by majority vote. So how do we know where one person's rights end and another person's begin? The answer can be summed up in two words: property rights.
All natural rights are property rights, derived from the most basic property right of all: the ownership each individual has "in his own person," according to the John Locke treatise Jefferson said defined the "the general principles of liberty and the rights of man, in nature and in society...generally approved by our fellow citizens of this, and the United States."
Self-ownership is the source of all natural rights, including freedom of speech. They are all property rights, according to Locke, who went on to say:
"The great and chief end, therefore, of men's uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property."
What does this have to do with Trump, his followers and their opponents? Everything. There are no gray areas when it comes to the freedom of speech of the various parties. There are clear and unambiguous lines indicating precisely where any individual's rights begin and end.
There is only one place where an absolute right to freedom of speech exists: on one's own property. Under any other circumstances, freedom of speech is at the discretion of the property owner.
Public property is considered equally owned by all members of society. Protesters have a right to say whatever they please on public property. The only limits they have on assembling and protesting is that they do not violently interfere with others, including Trump supporters exercising their rights to travel on public property to get to a Trump rally. As long as they follow this rule, they aren't violating anyone's rights, no matter how many of them show up or how vehemently they protest.
So stop whining, pro-Trumpers.
Once they leave public property, i.e., enter the premises owned by Trump or rented by him for his rally, they surrender their rights to assembly and free speech and are subject to the rules of the property owner. Trump is within his rights to ban all dissent whatsoever on his own property. The only right attendees bring with them onto Trump's property is the right to leave if they don't like the rules.
Trump isn't violating anyone's right to free speech by throwing out protesters. They are there at his discretion and can be removed if they don't follow his rules. The government actually has a duty to help him. Again, its chief purpose is the preservation of property.
So stop whining, anti-Trumpers.
Property rights solve virtually every societal problem, when they're properly understood and applied. But neither conservative nor liberal politicians like to go there, because property rights also have the undesirable (for them) side effect of placing very tight limits on government power.
Here's the catch: you can't have inalienable rights without recognizing property rights as their source. That's why the philosophical bases for conservativism and liberalism deny the existence of either. But the more we allow property rights to be violated, including by the government, the less freedom and civility we're going to get. It can get a lot worse than a few bloody noses.
Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.