Who objects to free speech? Here’s a short list of leading contenders

Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson's picture

Free speech has always been one of our most cherished rights. It has come under attack repeatedly by those who find it to be an inconvenient and unwanted obstacle to the attainment of their political goals. Sometimes, those in positions of power ignore the First Amendment and issue laws and regulations to silence their opponents. Other times, politicians or citizens work on an unofficial level, resorting to influence or intimidation to achieve censorship.

President John Adams signed the Sedition Act to criminalize “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” against the government or its officials. Americans didn’t like the federal government censoring expression or presuming to determine truth, so they canned Adams in the next election.

Abraham Lincoln jailed newspapermen whose comments on the Civil War were not to his liking.

In 1935, Franklin Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act, effectively curtailing employers’ freedom to talk with their own employees about their company’s financial condition and the affordability of wages and benefits.

Both Roosevelt and Richard Nixon imposed various wage and price controls. Since prices are the language through which present value is communicated between potential buyers and sellers, they essentially banned a form of free economic speech.

The assault on free speech seems to have accelerated in recent years. Freelance censors on the left have prevented dozens of conservatives from giving scheduled speeches on college campuses by shouts, chants, and even physical aggression.

A favorite tactic of global-warming propagandists has been to try to suppress dissenting views by urging reporters to ignore opposing viewpoints. Stephen Schneider, from his well-funded government perch at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, called it “journalistically irresponsible to present both sides” of the story. Al Gore used to tell journalists not to waste time interviewing global-warming skeptics.

Under the Patriot Act, the FBI is empowered to issue gag orders against those whom they investigate — even harmless little old ladies. (See Judge Andrew Napolitano’s YouTube clip.)

The Obama administration seems particularly unfriendly toward free speech. Consider just a few examples:

• The president’s FCC diversity officer, Mark Lloyd, has lamented that private media companies almost thwarted Hugo Chavez’s “incredible” revolution in Venezuela, and wants to impose punitive fees on radio stations that broadcast conservative talk shows, lest they interfere with the accomplishment of the Obama revolution.

• The president’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, publicly warned health-insurance companies that there would be “zero tolerance” for statements that contradicted the official party line on Obamacare.

• In December, the Federal Communications Commission (on a party-line 3-2 vote) imposed “net neutrality” — an innocuous-sounding phrase that disguises the elementary fact that the government wants some control over the Internet, the kind of power that the Chinese government has. (Incidentally, Verizon has filed suit against this unconstitutional power grab.)

• In his book, “Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech,” President Obama’s head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Cass Sunstein, asserted, “the First Amendment ... is not so much a matter of protecting rights as ensuring sound public judgment through the process of public deliberation.”

Sunstein believes that “people should be exposed to materials that they would not have chosen” and favors policies like federal guidelines for coverage of public issues and taxpayer-funded panels of “experts” to insure “diversity of views.” So much for the principle of letting Americans listen to what they want.

In November, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) mused publicly about the FCC shutting down Fox News and MSNBC (not exactly an equal trade, since relatively conservative Fox has multiples of the viewers of relatively liberal MSNBC) so that Americans could “have some faith in their government.” Yep, don’t let the people hear about what our great leaders are doing in Washington!

More recently, some voices on the left have exploited the tragedy in Tucson to rail against free political speech. (Personal disclaimer: I can’t stand strident rhetoric and am on record in advocating self-restraint from hateful rhetoric.) The left shows a remarkable lack of confidence in the attractiveness of its agenda by resorting to attempts to suppress opposing points of view. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.”

Rather than attempt to censor those with whom we disagree, let us welcome a vigorous debate. If you don’t like what you hear, turn it off, but don’t deny others the freedom to speak or hear various viewpoints. Jefferson again: If an opinion or argument “be false in its facts, disprove them; if false in its reasoning, refute it. But for God’s sake, let us freely hear both sides if we choose.” Amen.

[Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is an adjunct faculty member, economist, and fellow for economic and social policy with The Center for Vision & Values (www.VisionAndValues.org) at Grove City (Penn.) College.]

albion
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Convenient ommissions

Free speech rights are engrained in the fabric of our history, but after more than 200 years, many still don’t understand what these rights are, or why we should fight like hell to protect them.

Elements of our founding government were opposed to the ratification of the Constitution partly based on the lack of adequate guarantees for civil liberties. To provide guarantees, the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights were adopted.

Setting aside religion and peaceable assembly language for the moment to discuss freedom of speech, there are historical challenges from various points of the political spectrum, perhaps none more egregious than the 2010 Citizens United v. the FEC where the Supreme Court ruled that federal restrictions on corporate electoral advocacy were unconstitutional for violating the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. The Court overruled the 1990 decision of Austin v, Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which had previously held that a law that prohibited corporations from using treasury funds to support or oppose candidates in elections did not violate the First or Fourteenth Amendments. - Yay! Corporations are people. Ask yourself if this is good for America.

How about this gem: In 2003, a seldom-used federal law was brought up that says that "willfully and knowingly to enter or remain in any posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area of a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting" is a crime. – Thank you W, and the Secret Service for taking “free speech zones” to the next level, a.k.a. concrete and wire cages, criminalizing dissenting speech and corralling protestors at political conventions, out of sight and mind of the target audience and the cameras.

Regarding Dr. Hendrickson’s opposition to the Fairness Doctrine, let’s assess the current landscape. What’s changed since the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine? Is there more coverage of controversial issues of public importance?

Since the demise of the Fairness Doctrine we have had MUCH less coverage of issues. TV news and public affairs programming has decreased. The most extreme change has been in the immense volume of unanswered conservative opinion heard on the airwaves, especially on talk radio. Nationally, virtually all of the leading political talk show hosts are right-wingers: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Oliver North, G. Gordon Liddy, Bill O’Reilly and Michael Reagan, to name just a few. The same goes for local talk shows. One product of the post-Fairness era is the conservative “Hot Talk” format, featuring one right-wing host after another and little else. Some towns have two stations with this format.

Political opinions expressed on talk radio are approaching the level of uniformity that would normally be achieved only in a totalitarian society. There is nothing fair, balanced or democratic about it.

Any erosion of our rights should be questioned and challenged, but there are different degrees of erosion. The relatively tame comments of Sebelius, Obama and Sunstein pale in comparison to the persistent attacks from the right.

PTC Observer
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alboin - law, rights, and free speech

Alboin I think perhaps you should study corporate law.....a corporation is in fact an entity under law just like a person. It has the same rights as an individual. Why? Well the history is long and I will not go into it here. It all started in England and these rights of corporations were extended by practice in the United States. The law deals with, you guessed it property. It is the fact that corporations are a group of individuals banned together through investment that gives corporations' rights. It is an extension of every investor’s right to property that the law sets about protecting this property through common bond. The legal method is to grant a corporation rights just like individual and like the individuals' that have invested their property.

Now, to your subject of free markets and the press, your assertion that the "right wing" is taking over the airwaves seems a bit shallow to me. The fact is that the internet, radio, newspapers, and TV are all corporations that have a profit motive as their basis for existence. If "left wing" positions and philosophy could win an audience then they would have greater power to sell advertising. The fact is for whatever reason the left has not garnered the support of people that want to listen to their position. Many “left wing” venues are going out of business. They are losing in the marketplace of ideas. So, your answer it seems is somehow to limit the "right's" freedom of speech. Or have I misinterpreted what you have implied?

albion
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Corporations as persons

Your primer on corporate law, deals exclusively with the Due Process Clause. Property held by a corporate entity is one thing, but limitless funding of campaigns by corporations is another thing entirely.

Your "shallowness" comment notwithstanding, the airwaves ARE monopolized and it ain't healthy. When the lines between news and opinion become blurred, and there's no competing source of information, it becomes difficult to tell what's what.

Atlanta is a prime example. For all the talk about the liberal mainstream media, it is a fiction that has been repeated so many times, that many now actually believe it to be true. It's bizarro world. Up is down, black is white, and opinions are facts. Information consumers often cannot discern the difference.

The Fairness Doctrine does not seek to stifle conservative voices, and I do not advocate for that. Let 'em talk.

PTC Observer
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Let 'em talk - agree

And let the free market of ideas sort it all out, not the government.

albion
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free market of ideas

The problem is the limited bandwidth given to the "free market of ideas". Honest debate with an exchange of serious ideas and opinion is a great thing. A great thing that we don't have.

The media markets are no longer free markets, deregulation has in effect created government granted monopolies, where one company with deep pockets can own multiple TV stations, radio stations and the major newspapers in a single market.

PTC Observer
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albion - so.....

So, you don't think people are adult enough to understand that?

You seem to do OK, so what's the problem?

PTC Observer
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Bacon's objection

Here's what SHHS, Kathleen Sebelius said on the subject:

http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2010pres/09/20100909a.html

You be the judge of what she meant to say.

Hope this clears up Bacon's emotional outbursts, but I doubt it.

Davids mom
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PTCO
Quote:

The president’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, publicly warned health-insurance companies that there would be “zero tolerance” for statements that contradicted the official party line on Obamacarel

What part of the President's Health Care Reform is her statement contradicting?

By the way - Fox is giving Glenn Beck an opportunity to express 'free speech' elsewhere!

Chris P. Bacon
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Lies and free speech
Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson wrote:

• The president’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, publicly warned health-insurance companies that there would be “zero tolerance” for statements that contradicted the official party line on Obamacare.

A rather poor example here! "Doctor" Hendrickson has a problem with Secretary Sebelius putting insurance companies on notice that blaming this year's premium increases on Obamacare would not be tolerated, as such claims are demonstrably false.

The bigger question then: does "free speech" include a license to lie? Certainly Fox News believes so. A substantial number of bloggers here routinely inject lies into their commentary as well ("at least thats what the New York Times says!" *snicker*).

And of course, lying is a core tenet of the Tea Party philosophy, a fundamental building block of their mission ("No more ***Edited and warned*** presidents).

It never ceases to amaze me that some people feel that "free speech" not only gives someone the right to their own opinion, but to their own interpretation of facts!

Teahadist: "Jimmy Carter piloted one of those planes into the World Trade Center, parachuting to safety just before the plane hit the building!"

Real American: "Uh, that's not true...."

Teahadist: "There you go again trying to censor me!"

PTC Observer
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Bacon - Rather

Rather emotional don't you think?

Just a question here, are you ever really rational?

Davids mom
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PTCO/answers

The master of debate none-answers. (Don't answer - just personal attacks) Geez Your points can be taken seriously if you would just express them without trying to 'copy' Bacon. Don't criticize him if you think it's 'cute' to emulate him,

Chris P. Bacon
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Emotional, eh?

I realize that as a card-carryin' glibertarian you are bound to disagree with anything and everything I say, but you really had to dig deep into your disinformation toolkit to come up with "emotional".

Come on, you can do a better smear than that!

PTC Observer
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Bacon - You

didn't answer the question.

Oh! Wait you actually did.

Sorry my mistake.