Free Speech Vs Prior Restraint

The Muslim special-interest group CAIR has attempted to intimidate the Young America’s Foundation into cancelling a speaker at their conference this week. Reacting to frequent CAIR critic Robert Spencer’s invitation to address their National Conservative Student Conference, CAIR’s attorney demanded that the event get shut down:

You should be aware that Mr Spencer, a well-known purveyor of hatred and bigotry against Muslims, has a history of false and defamatory statements. Several of those statements have falsely accused CAIR of activity that would constitute a federal criminal offense.

Interestingly, the attorney (Joseph E. Sandler) never actually produces the supposedly false statements, nor indicates when or where Spencer supposedly made them. Nevertheless, Sandler demands that Spencer be silenced:

For those reasons, we demand that YAF cancel the subject session, or else take steps to ensure that false and defamatory statements are not disseminated at that session.

This seems to be the main strategy of CAIR — to sue people into silence. Let’s not forget that CAIR also supported the Flying Imams and their efforts to sue the people who complained about their suspicious behavior to airline and security personnel here at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Now they want to threaten legal action against their critics in order to intimidate them.
If Spencer has slandered CAIR or its members, then why hasn’t Sandler already sued Spencer? Could it be that CAIR might have more to fear from airing these issues in court and under oath than Spencer? It certainly looks that way. This letter is the typical bluster one would expect from a frightened bully with enough scratch to hire an attorney with a laser printer.
Instead of using these tactics of intimidation, CAIR could have simply asked to have time to rebut Spencer at the YAF event. That way, they could address Spencer’s supposed untruths in real time, and would have engaged young conservatives in a positive manner. A group that believes in freedom and liberty would have used their freedom of speech to enlighten the attendees, instead of attempting a prior restraint of speech that silences the normal and healthy voices of criticism in a free society.
YAF has reassured Spencer that his invitation to speak remains open. At least they understand the value of free speech.

It’s For The Children!

Sometimes bipartisanship leads to bigger problems, and the Senate Commerce Committee apparently intends to prove it. Chair Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and ranking member Ted Stevens (R-AK) issued a demand for government “filtering” of the Internet — and they want it for the children, of course (via Instapundit):

US senators today made a bipartisan call for the universal implementation of filtering and monitoring technologies on the Internet in order to protect children at the end of a Senate hearing for which civil liberties groups were not invited.
Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Vice Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) both argued that Internet was a dangerous place where parents alone will not be able to protect their children.
“While filtering and monitoring technologies help parents to screen out offensive content and to monitor their child’s online activities, the use of these technologies is far from universal and may not be fool-proof in keeping kids away from adult material,” Sen. Inouye said. “In that context, we must evaluate our current efforts to combat child pornography and consider what further measures may be needed to stop the spread of such illegal material over high-speed broadband connections.”

Before we get into free-speech issues, let’s deconstruct Inouye’s statement for a moment. Keeping kids away from adult material morphs very quickly into combating child pornography, but they aren’t at all connected. Kids don’t get victimized by child pornographers by surfing the web, but by being exploited in person by child pornographers. The distribution of child pornography occurs on the Internet — but that’s already illegal, and law enforcement resources have already been committed to fighting it.
If Inouye wants to strengthen the penalties and commit more resources to prosecute child porn and its distribution, that sounds good to me. It doesn’t require government “filtering” to do either.
What did Ted Stevens have to say about the subject? Nothing terribly coherent:

“Given the increasingly important role of the Internet in education and commerce, it differs from other media like TV and cable because parents cannot prevent their children from using the Internet altogether,” Sen. Stevens said. “The headlines continue to tell us of children who are victimized online. While the issues are difficult, I believe Congress has an important role to play to ensure that the protections available in other parts of our society find their way to the Internet.”

To quote the great philosopher of our time — the Geico Caveman — er, what? “The protections available in other parts of our society”? Would Stevens like to explain exactly what those protections are? I’m not aware of any government filtering programs on media, except to make child porn illegal. The government does not pre-inspect Hustler, for instance, to ensure that the models are all 18 and over; they just require publishers to keep records to substantiate it on request. They do the same thing with Internet porn sites, at least those who operate within the US. Every legitimate restriction on the distribution of information and images that exists in the brick-and-mortar world already applies to the Internet.
How does the Internet differ from TV and cable in that parents can’t prevent their children from using it? Parents who want to cut off Internet access at their house will find it rather easy to do. True, their children can access Internet elsewhere, but they can access television elsewhere, too, even at school.
The committee wants the FCC and the FTC to start working on methods of identifying and blocking certain methods of transmission to keep child pornography from getting distributed. Not only does that sound like a dangerous expansion of their specific missions, it sounds absurd from a technological point of view. The decentralized nature of the Internet makes this suggestion a never-ending game of “duck-duck-goose”, as transmissions will adapt to government interference — as proven in China, Iran, and a host of other dictatorships.
We don’t need a nanny state deciding what to block for our own good. Track child porn and prosecute everyone involved, but don’t use that as an excuse to start filtering access to the Internet.

Ted Kennedy And The Democrats Hate Free Speech

Once again, Minnesota’s Senator Norm Coleman attempted to ensure that government would not control the content of political speech — and once again the Democrats ensured that they could impose it. Ted Kennedy himself blocked Coleman’s amendment with a point of order, and the Democrats torpedoed it in a party-line vote:

Senate Democrats last night beat back a Republican attempt to attach an anti-Fairness Doctrine bill as an amendment to education legislation.
The doctrine, a former requirement that broadcasters present opposing points of view on political issues, was scrapped in 1987 by the Federal Communications Commission, which said the policy restricted journalistic freedom. The bill by Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, would prevent the FCC from reinstating the doctrine.
“We live in an age of satellite radio, of broadband, of blogs, of Internet, of cable TV, of broadcast TV. There is no limitation on the ability of anyone from any political persuasion to get their ideas set forth,” Mr. Coleman argued in support of the Broadcaster Freedom Act of 2007. “The public in the end will choose what to listen to.”
By a vote of 49-48, senators voted not to consider Mr. Coleman’s amendment after Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, raised a point of order. Senate rules require 60 votes to waive a point of order.

Kennedy pronounced Coleman’s amendment on the education bill as “insulting”, claiming that it delayed passage of his education bill. Coleman responded tartly by telling Kennedy that education can only be enhanced by “unfettered access to information.” Perhaps it would have been better to remind Kennedy that the federal government has less business regulating political speech than it does in education.
It’s become clear that the Democrats want top-down government control over political speech in this country. More than that, they want a mechanism that will kill talk radio — because they can’t compete in that arena. They want to re-establish the Fairness Doctrine so that broadcasters get intimidated into changing formats to protect their licenses. With the FD back in business, any crank can file complaints at will and force the broadcasters to conduct minute-by-minute audits of their broadcasts, attempting to determine how much time went to one position versus another.
Instead of going through that burdensome and expensive accounting, broadcasters will dump political talk for sports, or perhaps the inane “community” talk that almost always turns covertly political. The AM band will fade — again — and the broadcast industry will contract — again. And all because the Democrats believe that Americans are so stupid that they can’t find competing information on their own.
Evan Bayh was the only Democrat to support free political speech in this vote. Every Republican in the Senate voted to support free speech. That should inform voters for the 2008 campaign. Without free political speech, all else is lost.

A Colloquy On The Fairness Doctrine

The debate over the Fairness Doctrine continued in the Senate today, as Dick Durbin blocked Norm Coleman from offering an amendment that would forbid content control in political speech on the airwaves. Coleman and Durbin then got into a series of volleys on the nature of speech and broadcast licensing, which capsulizes the differing approaches to freedom between the two parties:

Mr. Durbin: I’m sorry to interrupt you but I really wish that through the commerce committee or the appropriate committee of jurisdiction, we can really get into this question. But the senator is arguing that the marketplace can provide. What is the senator’s response if the marketplace fails to provide? What is the marketplace does not provide opportunities to hear both points of view? Since the people who are seeking the licenses are using America’s airwaves, does the government, speaking for the people of this country, have any interest at that point to step in and make sure there is a despair balanced approach to the –a fair and balanced approach to the information given to the American people?
Mr. Coleman: Mr. President, I’ll respond to the final question here. Very clear disagreement here. The government does not — does not — have the responsibility to regulate content of speech. That’s what the first amendment is about. It’s exactly what the first amendment is about. Government’s not supposed to be regulating content. And in a time in 1949 when you had three network TV stations, basically, when had you limited channels of communication, I presume there was a legitimate concern on the part of some that, in fact, government needs to step in and ensure balance. But now we’re in 2007. We’re at a time where we’ve got 20,000, you know, opportunities for stations and satellite, where you have cable, you have blogs, you have a whole range of information. I think it would be — I — I can’t even conceive — I can’t even conceive that the market could not provide opportunities for differing positions because it does. And in the end — in the end, consumers also have a right based on the market to make choices. And so if they make choices that say we want to hear more of one side than the other, that’s ok okay. And I think it’s very dangerous, I say to my — my friend from Illinois, I think it’s very dangerous for government to be in the position of deciding what’s fair and balanced. Because as we see on the floor of the senate, oftentimes amongst ourselves, learned — hopefully learned individuals who’ve the great humble opportunity to serve in the US Senate, we have differences as to what is fair and balanced. And so the reason I think we have a First Amendment is that we get government out of — out of the — the measuring, controlling, dictating, regulating content and that’s my concern. …
John Kennedy stated, “we are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” Mr. President, I’m not afraid of of — of the people. I’m not afraid of the people having access to the in information, ideas that they want to have access to. But I am afraid of the government stepping in and regulating content. We have a first amendment. That’s the underpinning, the foundation of all the other amendments. The fairness doctrine flies in the face of that. It was rejected. It was rejected in 1987. The idea of bringing it back today is a very, very bad idea. This amendment specifically includes the Armed forces network. Our folks are out there on the front line fighting. They should be able to tune into whatever they want to tune into and they shouldn’t be thinking that back home someone at the FCC is listening and monitoring and deciding what is fair and what is balanced. Let the people decide. Let the market decide. Let the first amendment flourish.
Mr. President, with that, I yield the floor.

The effort to bring back the Fairness Doctrine is entirely about fear. Durbin and his associates are afraid that they have lost the debate, and they want to shut down the forum rather than acknowledge it. Either that, or Durbin and Barbara Boxer and anyone else who wants the government to dictate the content of political speech think you’re too stupid to find differing points of view.
The Fairness Doctrine never made any sense at any time, but today’s communications market make it especially inappropriate. We have millions of Americans debating issues on the Internet at places like Captain’s Quarters. News sources from around the world can be accessed within seconds (or minutes, if you’re stuck on dial-up). Talk radio occupies a small niche in a cornucopia of information sources.
Anyone who claims that Americans can’t access all sides on an issue is either being deliberately disingenuous or is hopelessly obtuse. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which applies to Dick Durbin. In the meantime, kudos to Norm Coleman for staying on top of this assault on free political speech.
UPDATE: Here’s the NRSC site opposing the Fairness Doctrine, called Stop Liberal Censorship. Be sure to keep up with FD news and information at that site — and a big welcome to Instapundit readers.

Coleman, Thune To Block Fairness Doctrine In Senate

Yesterday, Mike Pence won bipartisan approval for his amendment blocking the FCC from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. That amendment is attached to the appropriation for the agency, which requires a companion amendment in the Senate. Just a few moments ago, Senators Norm Coleman and John Thune announced that they have proposed an identical amendment in the Senate:

In an effort to prevent Democrats from suppressing the right to free speech for talk radio and other broadcasters, Senators Norm Coleman (R-MN), Jim DeMint (R-SC) and John Thune (R-SD) today introduced the Broadcaster Freedom Act of 2007 (S.1748). The bill would prevent the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from reinstituting the Fairness Doctrine, which would require the government to monitor political views and decide what constitutes fair political discourse. Identical legislation was also introduced by Congressman Mike Pence (R-IN) in the House of the Representatives.
“At its core, this is about the right to free speech. Our founders put the first amendment first for a reason. It protects all Americans’ right to free speech, regardless of political affiliation or views. The Democrats’ attempt to regulate and stifle ideas is a grave threat our liberties,” said Senator Coleman. “Since the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, talk radio has flourished due to free market ideas. We mustn’t put the government in control over the political views expressed on the public airwaves. I applaud Congressman Pence for being a leader on this issue. Senators DeMint, Thune and I will continue working with our colleagues in the Senate to pass this critical legislation.”
“Here they go again. Democrats showed in the immigration debate they will once again try resurrect the so-called ‘Fairness Doctrine’, which is nothing more than an attempt to muzzle the free speech of conservative Americans. If liberals had their way, this unfair doctrine would give the heavy hand of government control over talk radio. We must act now to preserve all American’s first amendment rights,” said Senator DeMint.

Power Line noted today that Dick Durbin and Dianne Feinstein have inadvertently given the Republicans an opportunity to rehabilitate themselves with their base after the immigration debacle. Attacking talk radio and threatening regulation of political content doesn’t just resonate with conservatives, but with everyone concerned about government meddling with political speech. The GOP sees the opportunity to champion free speech while painting the Democrats as afraid and unable to respond to debate.
If Harry Reid and the Senate Democratic Caucus have an ounce of sense, they’ll take a lesson from Jose Serrano and allow the amendment to prevail.

Pence Amendment On Fairness Doctrine: Live Blog

I have heard from Rep. Mike Pence’s office that debate on his amendment to bar the FCC from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine will begin shortly, perhaps around 1:30 ET. It should last 40 minutes, and I’ll live-blog it. This is an important amendment, and I suspect it will not survive — but we need to keep the heat on Congress to keep them from making the federal government the arbiter of the content of political speech.
Keep checking back!
Democrats say they will accept the amendment. Read below.
12:56 CT – Well, the House has debated a number of issues so far, but none of them Pence’s amendment. I’ll have to start show prep soon, but I’m hoping that the debate will start shortly. We’ll see …
1:00 – Pence is coming to the podium on his amendment now. 40 minutes of debate …
1:02 – Pence notes that the Fairness Doctrine had a chilling effect on public debate. Broadcasters simply wouldn’t risk their licenses in order to air public debate, because of the onerous burdens it placed on second-to-second management of content.
1:04 – Pence says that people claim that his amendment is unnecessary, but that within the last 48 hours, three senior Democrats have talked about reinstating the FD: Durbin, Kerry, Feinstein. Good, short speech.
1:07 – David Obey completely ignores the statements from three Democratic Senators and says no one in Congress has talked about resurrecting the FD. He then confuses broadcast media with the rest of the mainstream media. However, this seems a moot point, since the Democrats apparently will concede the amendment; even Obey shrugged it off.
1:10 – Jeff Flake rebukes Obey, in a friendly manner, by reading Durbin’s quote.
1:10 – Dennis Kucinich now says that it’s a non-issue — even though he himself called for a return of the FD! He then talks about how the FCC “controls the airwaves”.
1:14 – Kucinich darkly referred to future administrations resurrecting the FD — and Pence sys that’s precisely the point of the amendment. Diane Watson mischaracterizes everyone’s argument, and then says only six corporations have control over public debate. Huh? We have the most open public debate in American history — and part of that came from the removal of the federal government as arbiter of the content of broadcasts.
1:19 – Roy Blunt says market forces should prevail in public debate, rather than top-down government management of political content.
1:21 – Shorter Jose Serrano (D-NY): Trust us, the government will just put moderates on the air! He wants to know why the GOP wants to fix what’s not broken, and the obvious answer is that we don’t want the FCC and the Democrats to break it.
1:26 – Greg Walden: “It’s not my fault that Air America couldn’t find an audience!” He also reminded Congress that the courts have warned in the past that the FD was likely unconstitutional.
1:33 – A number of Republicans have made the point that the FD came from an era when the US had few broadcast stations, and few options for informing the public. Even if one accepted that the FD didn’t violate free speech, today’s society hardly requires the government to force broadcasters to carry speech for balance.
1:40 – It looks like the Democrats mostly gave up arguing about the amendment. It looks like they have yielded most of their time to the Republicans.
1:42 – I spoke too soon. David Obey quotes Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to scold “yap-yap TV” and talk radio for not demanding a Fairness Doctrine — so we can get a balanced media. Is Obey ill? Does he not understand that the FD didn’t apply to newspapers?
1:46 – Obey says, “I want to let Rush be Rush!” He says Rush is discredited and he wants to keep it that way. I think he’s making this up as he’s going along.
1:50 – The ayes had it, but the roll-call vote will be postponed. It looks like Pence wins.

Mike Pence, Fairness Doctrine Live Blog

Rep. Mike Pence met with a number of bloggers this morning about the effort just starting to develop to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. He’s offering legislation to oppose that in the House by stripping the FCC of any ability to dictate content. His bill will be filed at the end of this week, and he will team with Jeff Flake and Hensarling to offer an amendment to the FCC’s appropriation that forbids any use of funds to enforce the Fairness Doctrine, if revived.
Pence says it represents an “existential threat” to the conservative movement, and believes that the aim isn’t for “fairness” but for the silencing of conservatives. The problem is that the threat is that government retains this ability, either by legislation or executive order. We have to very aggressively explain that the high legal and administrative costs of the FD would simply choose not to carry any political talk radio at all.
Pence points out that the FCC actually has the authority on its own to reinstate the FD, without any action from Congress or the Presidency. They have chosen not to do so, but if the FCC wants to, they could reinstate it tomorrow. The judiciary may have a say in this eventually, but Pence’s bill would strip the FCC of that ability altogether. That doesn’t mean that Congress can’t pass future legislation to do it, but it would have to do so openly.
The American public likes fairness, but we defend freedom. We don’t want government determining what political speech can be conducted where and when, and we don’t need them interfering in a free market. We need to defend freedom rather than making government the arbiter of the content of political speech.

Fairness Doctrine Showdown Coming

The hue and cry over talk radio continues, as two senior Democrats in the Senate have vowed to pursue regulation of broadcast content, and one Republican in the House will announce legislation opposing it. Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin both argued that government should determine content on radio broadcasts in order to force listeners to hear both sides of an argument:

“It’s time to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “I have this old-fashioned attitude that when Americans hear both sides of the story, they’re in a better position to make a decision.”
The Fairness Doctrine, which the FCC discarded in 1985, required broadcasters to present opposing viewpoints on controversial political issues. Prior to 1985, government regulations called for broadcasters to “make reasonable judgments in good faith” on how to present multiple viewpoints on controversial issues.
Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she planned to “look at the legal and constitutional aspects of” reviving the Fairness Doctrine.
“I believe very strongly that the airwaves are public and people use these airwaves for profit,” she said. “But there is a responsibility to see that both sides and not just one side of the big public questions of debate of the day are aired and are aired with some modicum of fairness.”

That presumes a number of questionable conclusions, all of which can easily be contested. First, it assumes that the only place anyone hears debate is on talk radio. That’s patently absurd; television has far more reach than radio, and that’s just one medium among many. Never in our history has the average citizen had so many options for information and debate — broadcasts such as terrestrial radio and television, narrowcasts such as satellite radio and TV, newspapers, and most of all, the Internet, with its text, video, and audio. Anyone who wants to hear a counterargument can access it with ease.
That’s the second fallacy. Forcing radio stations to start “balancing” their content won’t mean that listeners will have to hear liberal talk radio. Many of them will tune out altogether. Just the notion of having to force people to listen to the liberal arguments on talk radio shows a certain amount of desperation on the part of Durbin and Feinstein, to say nothing of the implications of government dictating who gets to speak, and when.
That brings us to the most absurd point of all — NPR. The government owns and operates its own radio stations in every market of the nation. In fact, they have over 300 stations nationwide. Do they practice a Fairness Doctrine there? No. The spectrum of hosts and shows at NPR range from centrist to very liberal. If Durbin and Feinstein want to impose a Fairness Doctrine on radio broadcasts, let them start with NPR first.
That’s what makes the report on the supposed imbalance in talk radio from the Center for American Progress so laughable. Their study looks at a grand total of 257 talk-radio stations owned by five broadcasters, which amounts to less than 15% of the 2,000 talk radio stations overall and less than that of NPR alone. They don’t even describe the entirety of the broadcast schedule, deleting mention of shows that they claim to be non-political. One such show, the Tom Leykis syndicated show, cannot possibly be considered anything but liberal talk radio — and yet CAP fails to include Leykis in its study. They also fail to list Michael Jackson, who appears on a Los Angeles talk-radio station owned by Clear Channel.
Take a look at the hours calculated by CAP in its report. Citadel owns 23 talk stations, and yet they only account for a little over half of the broadcast hours on those stations. What’s on the rest of the day? CAP doesn’t tell you. Same for Cumulus, where CAP accounts for less than half of its broadcast hours. Is this how the Fairness Doctrine will be applied as well?
Rep. Mike Pence plans to stop the push towards government intervention in political speech. He will introduce legislation in the House today that will block implementation of the Fairness Doctrine. His remarks today will include the following:

“Bringing back the Fairness Doctrine would amount to government control over political views expressed on the public airwaves. It is a dangerous proposal to suggest the government should be in the business of rationing free speech.
“Congress must take action to ensure that this archaic remnant of a bygone era of American radio does not return. There is nothing fair about the Fairness Doctrine.
“During my years in radio and television, I developed a great respect for a free and independent press. Since being in Congress, I have been the recipient of praise and criticism from broadcast media, but it has not changed my fundamental belief that a free and independent press must be vigorously defended by those who love liberty. It is with this in mind that I will introduce the Broadcaster Freedom Act.
“The Broadcaster Freedom Act will prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from prescribing rules, regulations, or policies that will reinstate the requirement that broadcasters present opposing viewpoints in controversial issues of public importance. The Broadcaster Freedom Act will prevent the FCC or any future President from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. This legislation ensures true freedom and fairness will remain on our radio airwaves, and I would encourage my colleagues to cosponsor and support this bill.
“John F. Kennedy stated, ‘We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.'”

The Fairness Doctrine proposes to fix a problem that doesn’t exist by silencing political speech that disfavors the current partisan majority. It’s a breathtaking overreach, and it needs to be stopped.

The BCRA Loses In Supreme Court Decision

The Supreme Court has struck one aspect of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), commonly known as the McCain-Feingold Act, forbidding issue ads in the final 60 days before a general election. On a disappointing one-vote margin, the court ruled that participation in the electoral system outweighs considerations of undue influence:

The Supreme Court loosened restrictions Monday on corporate- and union-funded television ads that air close to elections, weakening a key provision of a landmark campaign finance law.
The court, split 5-4, upheld an appeals court ruling that an anti-abortion group should have been allowed to air ads during the final two months before the 2004 elections.
The case involved advertisements that Wisconsin Right to Life was prevented from broadcasting. The ads asked voters to contact the state’s two senators, Democrats Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, and urge them not to filibuster President Bush’s judicial nominees.

While this is a good start, it does not eliminate the BCRA’s restrictions altogether. It ruled that issue ads do not equal partisan campaign ads, and that the Wisconsin groups ads did not amount to a challenge to an incumbent. It does, however, make it much easier for outside groups to encourage voters to “contact their representatives” and identify incumbent Senators and Representatives in the final days of an election.
Unfortunately, only three justices appear ready to throw out the broader restriction on campaign advertisements, and therefore on free political speech. Unsurprisingly, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas argued for the broader ruling, but both John Roberts and Samuel Alito opted for a more careful approach. However, the surprise came from Anthony Kennedy, the moderate and now the swing vote on most matters, who sided with Scalia and Thomas.
Roberts probably wanted to gain a stronger consensus before declaring that portion of the BCRA unconstitutional. However, it represents a lost opportunity to gut the worst attack on free political speech in America since the Sedition Act of the first World War. Roberts — and the rest of America — may have a long wait before getting another opportunity to remind Congress of the explicit language of the First Amendment.

Thought Police Arises In Oakland, Bolstered By The 9th Circuit

Oakland has banned a group of African-American Christian women from accessing a government e-mail and message board system because it considers them bigoted and interested in conducting hate speech. While the same systems regularly carry political statements from gay-rights groups, the city has banned the women because of the loaded language in their communications — words such as marriage and natural family. George Will explains:

Marriage is the foundation of the natural family and sustains family values. That sentence is inflammatory, perhaps even a hate crime.
At least it is in Oakland, Calif. That city’s government says those words, italicized here, constitute something akin to hate speech and can be proscribed from the government’s open e-mail system and employee bulletin board. …
Some African American Christian women working for Oakland’s government organized the Good News Employee Association (GNEA), which they announced with a flier describing their group as “a forum for people of Faith to express their views on the contemporary issues of the day. With respect for the Natural Family, Marriage and Family Values.”
The flier was distributed after other employees’ groups, including those advocating gay rights, had advertised their political views and activities on the city’s e-mail system and bulletin board. When the GNEA asked for equal opportunity to communicate by that system and that board, it was denied. Furthermore, the flier they posted was taken down and destroyed by city officials, who declared it “homophobic” and disruptive.
The city government said the flier was “determined” to promote harassment based on sexual orientation. The city warned that the flier and communications like it could result in disciplinary action “up to and including termination.”

Gee, I wonder how that happened? It couldn’t be that our high degree of sensitivity has caused us to treat dissent as a crime, and act hysterically when offended, could it?
Of course it did. We have been marching down this road for several years now, starting with campus speech codes in the 1980s to campaign-finance reform and hate crimes legislation that makes motive a worse offense than the actual crime itself. Free speech used to have more defenders than attackers, but not any more. And once we decided that the content of speech should get evaluated and suppressed if found wanting, it has opened the door to greater expansion of thought-police activities.
In this case, the thought police got a large boost from the joke of the appellate courts, the Ninth Circuit. Amazingly, they determined that the GNEA’s “vanishingly small” speech interest wasn’t worth protecting. They approved of non-neutral content exclusions by a government agency that allows them to approve certain political speech while excluding others — setting up Oakland’s government as an arbiter of acceptable political beliefs.
Expect the Supreme Court to pin their collective ears back on appeal. Oakland could have avoided the entire issue by forbidding any use of their systems for anything other than job-related communications. Failing that, they have to show how using the terms marriage and natural family present any kind of threat to anyone in the workplace. They obviously cannot, but they apparently want to ban both concepts from the workings of the city anyway.
We have entered a dangerous stage for free speech. It’s fine to take offense at speechm, and to protest it when we do. Commercial actions such as boycotts work within the free speech market, although some may be overwrought. Demanding government interaction to silence groups like the GNEA, P-FLAG, NRA, NARAL, and so on is a demand for an end to free speech. If the Ninth Circuit can’t figure that out, then thank God for the Supreme Court.