Dear Prince Harry
“Congress shall make no law…” so please spare us the supposition that our First Amendment is “bonkers.”
Welcome to America, home of the ‘American Dream’ and land of the free. Freedom is a sacred topic in this part of the world, and though the kinks are continuously being worked out, we do value our personal rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution. Have you had a chance to read it yet? If not, you might want to check it out. It was created, in fact, a few years after the Revolutionary War – and independence from Britain – your homeland.
But more on that later.
First, I’d like to congratulate you on your highly profitable and successful book Spare as well as the Netflix documentary. That took guts. I think I speak for many when I say how enlightened we now are for all the shocking revelations you shared, from private information about the Royal Family to drug use and even your “kills” when serving in Afghanistan. Surely, at some point, you must’ve been worried about putting that much information in print especially since some of your acknowledgements were deemed harmful to the British forces and government.
Similar situations – where information published was considered harmful and scandalous – have happened (and still happen) here in America. In 1927, Jay Near, an editor of The Saturday Press, published a series of articles about several Minneapolis city officials, even going as far as to share dubious claims about law enforcement officers—in print— no less.
But, you see, like you, The Saturday Press was determined to publish all the sordid details regarding authority figures – no matter the target – from local gangsters to public officials in order to “cleanse Minneapolis of its commercialized vice ring.” Needless to say, the newspaper ruffled quite a few feathers and city officials instituted a gag order – also known as Prior Restraint – under the Public Nuisance Law of 1925 to prevent the paper from publishing further. This eventually led to the landmark case Near v. Minnesota where the United States Supreme Court, in a 5–4 ruling, reversed the lower courts decisions and ruled the Public Nuisance Law as unconstitutional.
Now, regarding prior restraint, there is one bit of information you might find interesting. When a publication includes details of national security, especially during wartime, government institutions can restrict that expression of speech even before that speech takes place. Don’t worry, I’m not making the claim that your admissions put the British people or government at risk. I’m merely an average US citizen pointing out that your speech could’ve been censored here (had you been a member of the US military) if wartime conditions were different. You are indeed a very powerful person and such candid, yet casual, statements about enemy kills, can be cause for worry, and quite possibly, censorship.
Is that what your ‘bonkers’ comment was referring to?
Moving on, though, I thought the Oprah interview was interesting. You were still new to our country at the time, but what a great testament to our speech freedoms in that you felt so compelled to share your truth, although, of course, some recollections may vary. One royal expert even claimed that 17 lies were told during the interview.
But who really knows at this point? Truth is a construct. The important thing is that truths, half truths and even unintended lies are protected by the First Amendment when it comes to sharing information about public figures. Take for example another landmark case, New York Times v. Sullivan. In this decision, the US Supreme Court held that the First Amendment limits the ability of public officials to sue for defamation. It all started over a few inaccuracies in an advertisement criticizing various Alabama officials for violating the rights of African Americans. In a unanimous 9-0 decision, the court established that inaccurate statements made under circumstances involving a public official plaintiff must be false and made with “actual malice,” which is defined as ‘reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.’
Indeed, recollections may vary, and speech involving public figures must survive the standard of actual malice if there can be any legal consequence.
When it comes to private individuals, however, a plaintiff must only prove negligence. Take for example, the “older woman” that you detailed in your book. Had you named her or published information that identified her in any way, then according to speech laws in the United States, she could easily take legal action. Fortunately, you protected her anonymity and no one knew her true identity.
“She liked horses, quite a lot, and treated me unlike a young stallion. Quick ride, after which she’d smacked my rump and sent me to grace. Among the many things about it that were wrong. It happened in a grassy field behind a busy pub.” Prince Harry in ‘Spare.’
Of course, a few rabble-rousers made the claim that your recollection of events, and of the older woman, were not entirely true. So, to squash the false rumors, and to the delight of a salivating international press and royal fans, the older woman, a private individual, came forward – begrudgingly.
“At first, I thought I could hide and that it would blow over. But as the names of different women, some of whom I know, became public, I realized that to make the speculation stop, I needed to tell the truth.” ~ Sasha Walpole
Walpole said she decided to come forward because a lot of people contacted her after reading about the encounter in your book. But good thing you didn’t actually name her or inflict reputation harm.
After reading your book and watching the docuseries, I find it so incredibly odd that you labeled our First Amendment as “bonkers.”
“I’ve got so much I want to say about the First Amendment as I sort of understand it, but it is bonkers. I don’t want to start going down the First Amendment route because that’s a huge subject and one which I don’t understand because I’ve only been here a short time.”
~ Prince Harry in a 2021 interview with Dax Shepard
Now, it’s quite understandable that speech freedoms can hurt others. Words hurt. Lies hurt. Truth hurts. But as Americans, we hold these speech freedoms dear and central to our country. The Revolutionary War was a bloody, full-scale conflict that claimed countless lives and upended colonial life into a state of death and chaos. But the great risk was worth an even greater reward, and America earned independence from Britain, and not long after, the First Amendment – in addition to nine other amendments making up the Bill of Rights—was adopted in 1791.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Since living here in our country, you have enjoyed many of the same speech freedoms you previously labeled ‘bonkers.’ Although you made those statements in 2021, you have not since retracted those words. It’s important to note, however, that you do not have to. That is your right to say those things, and though we do not agree, we respect your right to free expression.
Can you say the same?
The Average American