Why heckling POTUS isn’t always “free speech”


National Park Service

Caden Gorin

Eight days have passed since President Biden’s annual State of the Union address, but my feelings are unchanged. Too many sounds from my TV that night were disappointing. They weren’t from Biden’s speech either. 

They were from members of Congress—who were heckling. I believe they should be punished, too. I do not believe their boos and jeers should be protected as “free speech” in this situation. 

Every year, the sitting President of the United States gives their State of the Union speech. They address challenges and accomplishments that the country has faced while also outlining their agenda for the current year. No matter who the President is, they are always met with cheers and jeers. The President always starts off the State of the Union by greeting their loved ones, the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, members of the Cabinet, members of the Supreme Court, and their fellow Americans. Then, the President starts their speech, and literally after every few sentences, members of Congress stand and applaud for an extended period. This goes on throughout the entire address. And if you ever watch the State of the Union, you will notice that only one side of the chamber gets up and applauds while the other side just sits there, shaking their heads.  

In the past 15 years, there have been several instances where the President was heckled during the State of the Union. A prime example was in 2009 when then-President Barack Obama, a Democrat, was heckled by Rep. Joe Wilson, a Republican from South Carolina, who shouted, “You lie,” at Obama. Afterward, members from both parties condemned Wilson’s outburst. Even Sen. John McCain, who had lost the presidential election to Obama the previous year, said, “His outburst was totally disrespectful, and he should apologize.”  

Another example occurred in 2015 when President Obama was giving his final State of the Union, when he said, “I have no more campaigns to run.” The Republican side of the chamber started clapping and cheering, disrupting Obama’s speech. The President then continued with, “I know — because I won both of them.” Afterward, this was met with positive reviews from both sides of the aisle.  

The most recent example was Biden’s State of the Union earlier this month. During his speech, Biden said that some members of the GOP want to end entitlement programs like Social Security. This is when Rep. Margorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia, stood up and repeatedly shouted, “Liar!”  

I don’t care what your political beliefs are, but I have always found it extremely disrespectful when you heckle the President during the State of the Union. In all these instances that I have listed, not one of them resulted in the heckling legislators being punished. Every year, the State of the Union is a progress report on America. When you don’t agree with what the President is saying and you heckle them, you should face serious consequences. For example, lawmakers could be removed from committee assignments, or they would be suspended from Congress for a period of time. These are just some of the possible penalties. 

 How can we expect average Americans to respect the President if elected members of Congress won’t do so?