Congressman Proposes Bill to Control Speech

by Steve MacDonald

orwell-free-speech (1)Maryland Congressman Anthony Brown has proposed legislation that would force every American college to define rules for acceptable speech. It includes federal money for small schools that need assistance in meeting the laws reporting and enforcement requirements. Rules that, if not followed could result in schools losing other federal dollars.

The Supreme Court should save us all a lot of bother and drop Mr. Brown a note before he says another word.

Dear Congressman Brown. Please see emphasized text in item one.  US Constitution. Bill of Rights. First Amendment,

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Not only shall the government make no law, but the government also shall not fund the abridgment nor fine entities, public or private, for refusing to violate this constitutional protection. Not that knowing the limits placed on Congress has ever been much of a deterrent to lawmakers.

If passed, the bill would require universities and colleges to demonstrate they have programs and initiatives in place that clearly define to students “what is acceptable speech and what is not acceptable speech,” Brown (D-Md.) said to a room of roughly 150 people at the Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center.

Brown’s thinking is backward from beginning to end.

The supreme court has been very clear in its defense of Free Speech and Hate speech is not a legal thing. There is no constitutional carve out for it. You certainly can’t prohibit it. And as Ken White notes in his piece on censorship tropes,

Americans are free to impose social consequences on ugly speech, but the government is not free to impose official sanctions upon it. In other words, even if the phrase “hate speech” had a recognized legal definition, it would still not carry legal consequences.

It is my opinion that universities that are currently limiting speech, or advocating restrictions via both campus policy and curricula, should already be at risk of losing public money. In fact, I’m surprised that I have not heard of any court cases challenging their suppression in the context of federal grants or loans.

And while Congressman Brown and those who support his idea argue that the uprising of hateful speech in the era of President Trump is their reason for acting now more than ever, consider the words (again) of Ken White who is no fan of Trump and not the least bit politically conservative

[Y] ou cannot destroy a value in order to save it. Nazis — like terrorists — hope that we will abandon principles and fundamentally change who we are out of fear. Assault is assault, threats are threats, murder is murder, and all of them should be vigorously investigated and prosecuted. The allowance for self-defense by those threatened by Nazis should reasonably be generous. But despicable speech is protected by the First Amendment, and should remain so. Our present circumstances show why it is sheer terrified madness to entrust a broad power to prevent or punish speech upon a fickle state. 

Mr. White is consistent in his defense of free speech, not just as a matter of legal tradecraft (by all accounts an outstanding lawyer in that regard) he opposes efforts to suppress First Amendment speech by all sides.

I can’t say that I’m familiar with any Republican efforts to advance hate speech as a tool for suppression anywhere, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist or that the Right isn’t capable. Humans are flawed beings who’d rather not have to explain or defend ideas. The desire to limit the opposition to them is not unnatural.

History warns us that governments (almost always comprised of ambitious people) will inevitably resort to the force (of law and arms at their disposal) to protect their ideas from criticism. And that the institutional protection (from government force) of opposing ideas is very rare.

So when a sitting congressman, oath sworn to protect and defend that right, proposes the use of government force to control which words humans use when and where, someone needs to remind them why that is a path we do not want to tread, even if it is to save taxpayers the cost of a legal battle advocates of limits would most certainly lose.

At no point in time after are your ideas safe from the forces you have set loose.

Anyone who defends Congressman Brown’s proposal should be watched and such notions opposed at every opportunity.

If they happen to be in elected office, they should be shepherded from public service at the nearest opportunity.

It is not a matter of ideology, it is a matter of liberty. And if liberty means anything at all, to borrow from Orwell, it is the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear.

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