By the Editors • National Review
In the past two weeks, two different airports have blocked Chick-fil-A from the premises. First, the city council of San Antonio banned the chain because, in the words of councilman Robert Trevino, “everyone should feel welcome when they walk through our airport.” Then, two weeks later, a New York Democratic assemblyman, Sean Ryan, announced that the Buffalo airport food vendor was prohibiting Chick-fil-A from operating in its food court. Ryan was explicit about the reason, declaring in a statement that “the views of Chick-fil-A do not represent our state or the Western New York community.”
The immediate justification for the bans was a ThinkProgress allegation that the Chick-fil-A foundation supported “groups with a record of anti-LGBTQ” discrimination.” ThinkProgress was resurrecting a 2012 controversy over Chick-fil-A contributions to an affiliated foundation that gave grants to conservative Christian groups, including groups that opposed same-sex marriage, and over comments by Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy supporting the traditional, biblical definition of marriage. There was no allegation that Chick-fil-A discriminated against gay customers or gay employees.
In 2012, a wave of Democratic city officials, including the mayors of Boston and San Francisco, threatened to block Chick-fil-A from opening restaurants in their cities, and Chick-fil-A’s customers responded with Continue reading
By David Harsanyi • The Federalist
In a recent op-ed, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg implored the state to get more involved in governing the internet. “Every day, we make decisions about what speech is harmful, what constitutes political advertising, and how to prevent sophisticated cyberattacks,” he began. “These are important for keeping our community safe. But if we were starting from scratch, we wouldn’t ask companies to make these judgments alone.”
For starters, there’s no such a thing as “harmful speech.” There might be speech that offends us. There might be speech we disagree with. There’s also speech that’s inarguably ugly, dishonest, pornographic or despicable. “We” allow these unpleasant words to go largely unregulated because we value the broader liberty of being able to offer opinions without government censors dictating which thoughts are acceptable.
But if Zuckerberg wants to rid his platform of this “hate speech,” no one is stopping him. Facebook allegedly employs a number of new mechanisms to achieve this very task. Good luck.
But Zuckerberg also claims that “we,” as society, now have a special responsibility to facilitate his efforts to keep people “safe” from reprehensible rhetoric. We have no such obligation. Facebook already offers users the ability to block or Continue reading
By Rich Lowry • National Review
The same Democrats outraged by Donald Trump’s alleged offenses against the First Amendment passed, as their first priority, a speech-restricting bill opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Trump shouldn’t call the media “the enemy of the people” or inveigh against Jeff Bezos for owning the Washington Post, but Nancy Pelosi’s H.R. 1, which passed the House last week, is the true affront to the Constitution.
The wide-ranging legislation purports to reform campaign finance with a series of vague, sweeping measures that will act to chill speech when they don’t actively regulate or squelch it. H.R. 1 is called the For the People Act but would be more aptly titled the Be Careful What You Say, It Might Be Illegal Act.
Progressives can’t abide the notion that people in this country get together to spend money on advocacy outside the purview of the government — in other words, freely promote their favored causes as befits a free people living in a free country.
H.R. 1 cracks the whip. As the Institute for Free Speech points out, the current campaign-finance rules limit expenditures that expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate, or refer to a candidate in public advertising shortly before an election. The idea is to have clear rules so groups can promote their views without fear of running afoul of federal regulations.
H.R. 1 blows this regime up. It seeks to regulate any speech at any time that “promotes or supports the candidate, or attacks or opposes an opponent of the candidate,” a fuzzy standard that could catch up all manner of nonelectoral messages (e.g., “Trump’s tariffs are a mistake,” or “Support Trump’s wall”).
H.R. 1 also widens the definition of coordination between a group and a candidate to encompass almost any communication. It’d still be permissible to discuss a candidate’s position on an issue, so long as there is no talk “regarding the candidate’s or committee’s campaign advertising, message, strategy, policy, polling, allocation of resources, fundraising, or other campaign activities.”
Even if a group doesn’t coordinate with a candidate under this loose standard, it could still be deemed to have coordinated if it were founded by someone who goes on to become a candidate; relies on the professional services of someone who also did work for a candidate; or is run by someone who had conversations about a campaign with the relative of a candidate.
On top of all this, H.R. 1 goes after the privacy of donors to advocacy organizations. It mandates the disclosure of the names and addresses of donors giving more than $10,000 to groups that engage in “campaign-related disbursements.” Given our toxic political environment, this would potentially subject the donors to harassment and abuse, and they might not even be aware of or support the communications in question.
Supporters of H.R. 1 say it is necessary to rein in super PACs, the frightening-sounding organizations that aren’t as unregulated as everyone believes (the Federal Election Commission gets reports of their expenditures and contributions). But, as the Institute for Free Speech notes, the bill affects a much broader array of “trade associations, unions, business groups, and advocacy organizations, such as Planned Parenthood and the National Right to Life Committee.”
Love them or hate them, these groups are part of the warp and woof of American public life, and they shouldn’t have to think twice before engaging in acts of persuasion that enrich and enliven our democracy, not corrupt it.
The Supreme Court has long put an emphasis on bright lines in its campaign-finance jurisprudence exactly to avoid a chilling effect on advocacy. It has said that laws must be “both easily understood and objectively determinable.” The campaign-finance provisions of H.R. 1 are neither.
What H.R. 1 makes abundantly clear is that the foremost threat to the First Amendment are the people who believe that there is something untoward about unregulated political speech and seek to bring it under control.
By Kyle Smith • National Review
The First Amendment has never been stronger. Yet freedom of speech is under dire threat. Both of these things can be true, and both are.
The kinds of corporations that frequently proclaim their dedication to the First Amendment — and are quick to denounce President Trump’s taunts of the media — are doing something Trump has not done and will not do: muzzling writers. Publishers are presenting authors with contracts containing clauses that essentially say, “We will cut you loose should a Twitter mob come after you.” It’s a revolting, shameful trend.
As Judith Shulevitz writes in the New York Times, Condé Nast, publisher of The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and many other magazines, recently started burying in its standard writers’ contracts a landmine. If the company should unilaterally rule that the writer has become “the subject of public disrepute, contempt, complaints or scandals,” the publisher can void the contract. Shulevitz mislabels such stipulations “morality clauses.” To paraphrase Mae West, morality has nothing to do with it. “Cowardice clauses” would be nearer the mark. Continue reading
By Jeremy Carl • The Federalist
Less than two weeks ago, President Trump signed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement intended to be the successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump has attacked for decades. The White House says the agreement will “better serve the interests of American workers and businesses” and “includes the strongest digital trade … provisions of any United States trade agreement.”
Unfortunately, an obscure article in one provision of the agreement only serves the interests of the largest tech monopolies by granting them special privilege to censor conservatives. Congress should demand the removal or amendment of this article before giving consent to confirm section 230.
How did this happen? Big Tech lobbyists orchestrated the quiet insertion of a seemingly innocuous provision (Article 19.17) into the deal that is based on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Continue reading
by Ben Domenech • The Federalist
The firing of Kevin Williamson from The Atlantic on the day he was set to give an opening Q&A in their offices was sadly unsurprising given the pattern of these types of hires. It is an incident that will be referred to largely as a “media story”, meaning that Williamson is not a figure so prominent nor The Atlantic a brand so ubiquitous as to graduate this to a national story, in the way that the situations of Brendan Eich at Mozilla or James Damore at Google became national cable news stories. But they really are the same story, a story about the times that we live in and the changing nature of America. They tell a story about what happens when a talented individual has deeply held beliefs those in his profession find unacceptable.
This story is a predictable continuation of the left’s ownership not just of media but indeed of all institutions. It is depressing. It is predictable. And it is where we are as a country now. It is not confined to the realm of ideas. Eich, Damore, Williamson and others are subject to blacklists and HR reports and firing in every arena of industry and culture. If you have wrongthink, you will not be allowed for long to make your living within any space the left has determined they own – first the academy, then the media, then corporate America, and now the public square. You will bake the cake, you will use the proper pronoun, and you will never say that what Planned Parenthood does is murder for hire, and should be punished as such under the law.
Imagine what the few lonely voices that inhabit a position at a prominent publication or network to the right of Hillary Clinton on social issues if their hiring was taking place right now. Imagine what Ross Douthat would be going through if the Times hired him today (recall he was at The Atlantic before that). Continue reading
By Douglas Murray • National Review
It’s much more comfortable for those in power to go after amorphous concepts than to address real-world issues.
At the start of January this year a new law came into effect in Germany. The “NetzDG” law allows an un-named and unknown collection of government agencies and tech companies to police the Internet and remove content deemed to be “hateful” or otherwise deemed to constitute “hate speech.” Around the world politicians from other nations are looking at these laws with envy.
Of course, the whole notion of “hate speech” should warrant far more suspicion and push-back than it has done recently. Incitement to violence is already illegal in most countries. As are credible threats to kill someone. But “hate speech” brings a high bar down several pegs. And the problem with it is not only that it attempts to read purpose and imagined consequences into words, but that it inevitably comes framed to give ideological protection to whoever wields power at a particular point in time.
The temptation is obvious. In Germany “hate speech” can include words that are true and which are accurately critical or even merely descriptive of terrible events that are going on: particularly events that have followed from Angela Merkel’s open-borders policy of 2015. Doubtless the crack-down on her online critics is comfortable for Merkel and the government she has finally managed to assemble. But you have to have a remarkably short political memory to think that banning words that accurately describe situations is a wise way to try to order society. Continue reading
By Nicole Russell • The Federalist
The Federalist society at the Lewis and Clark Law School invited Christina Hoff Sommers, scholar, author, and outspoken critic of feminism to speak Monday, and student groups quickly organized to get her invitation rescinded. When that didn’t work, protesters gathered inside and outside the venue, accused her of being a fascist, and Sommers’ actual speech was cut short, due to protestors’ interruptions and heckling.
The fact that law school students, acting more like social justice warriors than thoughtful scholars, would falsely label Sommers as a fascist, yet prohibit her from speaking at a venue, is a bad sign about the future of our public discourse and the right of free speech. Apparently it needs to be said that Christina Hoff Sommers is not a fascist. She isn’t. Continue reading
By David French • National Review Online
If you follow free-speech controversies for any length of time, you’ll understand two things about public opinion. First, an overwhelming percentage of Americans will declare their support for free speech. Second, a shocking percentage of Americans also support censoring speech they don’t like. How is this possible? It’s simple. “Free speech” is good speech, you see. That’s the speech that corrects injustices and speaks truth to power. That other speech? The speech that hurts my feelings or hurts my friends’ feelings? That’s “hate speech.” It might even be violence.
A new survey of college students demonstrates this reality perfectly. Conducted by McLaughlin & Associates for Yale’s William F. Buckley, Jr. Program, the survey queried 800 college students attending four-year private or public colleges, and the results were depressingly predictable. Continue reading
By Theodore Kupfer • National Review Online
George Ciccariello-Maher is suddenly worried about academic freedom. Before now, the concerns of the associate professor of politics at Drexel University trended mainly to spreading the gospel of the Bolivarian Revolution, the disaster that has reduced Venezuela to penury and violence. Ciccariello-Maher writes books with titles such as “Decolonizing Dialectics” — Marx was white, after all — and articles for Jacobin asserting that “the only way out of the Venezuelan crisis today lies decisively to the Left.” It’s a faith-based creed, and he is most comfortable evangelizing in the classrooms at Drexel.
He also stumps online for the proletariat. Last Christmas Eve, Ciccariello-Maher, striving to goose the bourgeoisie’s Yuletide mood, tweeted: “All I want for Christmas is White Genocide.” That attracted the gimlet eye of Drexel administrators, who issued an official statement calling the comments “utterly reprehensible.” Continue reading
By Edwin Meese III • Wall Street Journal
The headlines were both inflammatory and untrue: “Attorney General Jeff Sessions Criticized for Speaking to ‘Hate Group,’ ” reported NBC. Reports from ABC and other major news outlets used similar language. Readers might be surprised to learn that the group in question is the Alliance Defending Freedom, a respected civil-rights law firm.
So where did this scurrilous charge originate? With the Southern Poverty Law Center, which labels the ADF a “hate group.” The designation had nothing to do with the law firm’s policies or behavior. It’s just that the SPLC objects to its traditional views on the Constitution, the First Amendment and the meaning of marriage. No responsible media outlet should parrot the SPLC’s hate list without seeking to understand not only its motives but also the consequences of spreading false charges.
I have personally known the ADF’s founder, Alan Sears, and its president, Mike Farris, for decades. Each has committed his life to fighting for justice, the rule of law, and a better future for all Americans. When I was attorney general in the 1980s, Alan worked for the Commission on Pornography, fighting for stronger laws against obscenity while protecting the First Amendment. Continue reading
By Glenn Reynolds • USAToday
The former governor showed himself to be a constitutional illiterate on Twitter.
I tell my constitutional law students that there are a couple of statements that indicate that a speaker is a constitutional illiterate who can safely be ignored. One is the claim that the Constitution views black people as ⅗ the worth of white people (actually, it was all about power in Congress, with slaveowners wanting black people to count 100% toward apportionment so that slaveowners would get more seats in Congress, and abolitionists wanting them not counted at all so that slaveowners would get fewer seats in Congress; the ⅗ compromise was just that, a compromise).
The other hallmark of constitutional illiteracy is the claim that the First Amendment doesn’t protect “hate speech.” And by making that claim last week, Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont and Democratic presidential candidate, revealed himself to be a constitutional illiterate. Then, predictably, he doubled down on his ignorance. Continue reading
By David French • National Review
When free speech threatens government power, government has a tendency to get curious about the identity and funding of dissenting speakers. This was true in the civil-rights era, when the state of Alabama tried to force the NAACP to divulge its membership lists. It was true during the Obama administration, when the IRS targeted the Tea Party for illegal scrutiny not merely by asking in some cases for donor lists but also by inquiring about the political activities of family members of tea-party leaders and the login information of tea-party websites. And it was certainly true in the state of Wisconsin, when law enforcement used terrifying dawn and pre-dawn raids to gather information about First Amendment–protected issue advocacy about labor-union reform.
But why threaten to batter down a door when you can just pass a law that batters away at the Constitution? Continue reading
By Peter W. Wood • The Federalist
The Middlebury College protest on March 2 that silenced an invited speaker and hospitalized a popular professor has continued to garner attention.
More than 100 Middlebury professors—included the one injured in the encounter—have signed a statement of principles, Free Inquiry on Campus, upholding the classic virtues of “free, reasoned, and civil speech.” The document implicitly repudiates the actions of some other Middlebury professors who instigated the effort to deny Dr. Charles Murray the opportunity to speak on campus.
The American Political Science Association, representing 13,000 professors and students, issued its own statement condemning “Violence at Middlebury College.” The APSA statement says, in part, “The violence surrounding the talk undermined the ability of faculty and students to engage in the free exchange of ideas and debate, thereby impeding academic freedom on the Middlebury campus.” Continue reading
by David French • National Review
I’m supposed to be encouraged, but I’m not.
In the aftermath of this month’s violent attack on Charles Murray and a Middlebury professor, I’m supposed to be encouraged, as a supporter of free speech and academic freedom in higher education, that pundits, professors, and writers from across the political spectrum have united to condemn mob censorship. I’m supposed to be encouraged that even stalwart men of the left such as New York Times columnists Frank Bruni and Nicholas Kristof are waking up to the modern American academy’s serious intellectual-diversity problem. And I’m supposed to be encouraged that Middlebury’s president and dozens of Middlebury professors have united to express their support for free speech.
But I’m not.
I’m certainly grateful for the near-unanimous condemnation of the protesters and rioters at Middlebury (and also at Berkeley, where the so-called “black bloc” shut down Milo Yiannopoulos’s planned speech, started fires, vandalized shops, and beat Trump supporters in the streets), but I’m not encouraged, and I don’t think other free-speech advocates should be either. Continue reading