The New York Analysis of Policy and Government examines the growing rejecting of free speech.
In the hyper-ventilating world of modern journalism, describing almost every issue as a “crises” has lost its impact. That’s troubling, because there are several challenges facing the United States that truly are existential threats. Arguably, the most serious is the rapidly declining support for free speech.
Several recent reports and articles illustrate the dramatic drop in devotion to the First Amendment, which, more than any other characteristic, has been the defining characteristic of American law, culture and government.
The seriousness of the threat can be seen in the multiple avenues of attack those favoring limiting freedom of speech have taken. They include:
- introduced legislation on the federal and state level that limits free speech;
- the use of violence or the threat thereof in response to free speech;
- during the Obama Administration, the use of federal agencies to limit the ability of political opponents to organize;
- the actions of social media powerhouses to downplay or censor some perspectives; and
- attempts to indoctrinate students to reject free speech.
It is disturbing that some in the media who, because of their profession, should be among the most ardent supporters of free speech, are among those favoring its limitation. Richard L. Hasen, writing in the Los Angeles Times stated that “…some shifts in 1st Amendment doctrine seem desirable to assist citizens in ascertaining the truth.”
A generation of American youth are being taught on campuses that reject free speech. John Villasenor, writing for Brookings notes: “what happens on campuses often foreshadows broader societal trends…A surprisingly large fraction of students believe it is acceptable to act—including resorting to violence—to shut down expression they consider offensive…Freedom of expression is deeply imperiled on U.S. campuses. In fact, despite protestations to the contrary (often with statements like “we fully support the First Amendment, but…), freedom of expression is clearly not, in practice, available on many campuses, including many public campuses that have First Amendment obligations… among many current college students there is a significant divergence between the actual and perceived scope of First Amendment freedoms. More specifically, with respect to the questions explored above, many students have an overly narrow view of the extent of freedom of expression… a surprisingly large fraction of students believe it is acceptable to act—including resorting to violence—to shut down expression they consider offensive. And a majority of students appear to want an environment that shields them from being exposed to views they might find offensive.”
The problem extends beyond biased journalists and the leftist, pro-censorship environment on college campuses. During the Obama Administration, federal attacks on organizations that spoke in opposition to President Obama’s policies occurred, and the perpetrators have not been subjected to punishment. Robert Wood, writing in Forbes, reported “[IRS official] Lois Lerner and Justice Department officials met in 2010 about going after conservative organizations…In August 2010, the IRS distributed a ‘be on the lookout’ list for Tea Party organizations… On May 7, 2014, the House of Representatives held Ms. Lerner in contempt of Congress…”
During her tenure in office during the Obama Administration, Attorney General Loretta Lynch seriously considered criminally prosecuting those who disagreed with the former President’s views on global warming. A number of state attorneys general engaged in legal harassment of think tanks that question Obama’s environmental policies.
The problem reaches beyond agency actions. Senator Charles Schumer, (D-NY) who is the U.S. Senate’s minority leader, proposed a measure that would limit free speech protections as they pertain to campaign donations. The proposed legislation, thankfully defeated, gained 43 Senate supporters—all Democrats. At a Senate Rules Committee Schumer stated that “The First Amendment is sacred, but the First Amendment is not absolute. By making it absolute, you make it less sacred to most Americans.”
The Report Concludes Tomorrow