by Emily Greene | September 06, 2023

We live in a country where some generations forget that free speech is a protected right—not a privilege.   

Very recently, a middle-school student was removed from class for wearing a patch with the Gadsden flag, best known for its “Don’t Tread on Me” slogan and timber rattlesnake design, on his backpack. In a society where students’ abilities in math and reading are decreasing nationally, there are educators who are instead prioritizing the policing of free speech and making false claims about the Gadsden flag’s ties to slavery.

Rather, the timber rattlesnake design, as described by Benjamin Franklin in “An American Guesser” published by the Pennsylvania Journal in 1775, is a testament to the 13 original colonies of the United States of America. Franklin wrote, “I recollected that her [the snake] eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids. She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance. She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shown and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal. Conscious of this, she never wounds ’till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her. 

Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?” 

 When the Founding Fathers outlined a blueprint for our democratic republic, the First Amendment was a core tenet of this plan. Though it is a guaranteed right, that doesn’t mean it comes without the need to defend it.

Just this year, Harrisburg lawmakers tried to silence University of Pittsburgh students by attempting to prohibit student groups from hosting a debate regarding the issue of transgender politics in sports and culture. Regardless of where you fall on this issue, it’s dangerous for state elected officials to attempt to silence the voices of students on a taxpayer-funded university. After much pressure from groups on both sides of the aisle, the University of Pittsburgh permitted these student groups to host the debate—though not without infusing political beliefs into the university’s official public statement.

In the context of free speech, there’s also the discussion of the freedom of speech to donate to organizations of your choosing. Legislation is being circulated in Harrisburg that would codify the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision in Americans for Prosperity Foundation vs. Bonta, which determined that state governments cannot compel organizations to provide lists of donors in the false name of “transparency”. Cancel culture is a double-edged sword, and its impact doesn’t discriminate by party affiliation. As determined by the Supreme Court, transparency is for government, and privacy is for people. You should have the right to give to charitable organizations without the threat of cancel culture (or, in the case of AFPF vs. Bonta, the state of California), coming for you.

Free speech is guaranteed, but it will take vigilance from us all to protect this guaranteed right. Learn more today about how you can work to protect free speech by joining us at and joining AFP Vice President of Legal & Judicial Strategy, Casey Mattox’s free speech email list. Learn about the threats that occur every day and what you can do to protect our rights.

This is Emily Greene, Deputy State Director with Americans for Prosperity-PA.


Emily Greene | Deputy State Director | Americans for Prosperity – PA

m: 412.552.0271 | e: [email protected] | @AFPPennsylvania