When Big Bad Brother Becomes the ‘Heckler’

Will Big Brother impose mandatory treatment for individuals with climate change denial disorder? Are treatment programs for weight loss, addictions to alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, and assorted phobias at risk of being banned by government? No way, you say.

Think again.

The U.S. Supreme Court adopted the phrase, “Heckler’s Veto,” when it held that it is the government’s duty to protect a speaker exercising his or her First Amendment right from hecklers who threaten or use violence in order to silence them. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reiterated the principle in Bible Believers v. Wayne County on Oct. 28, 2015:

“The First Amendment offers sweeping protection that allows all manner of speech to enter the marketplace of ideas. This protection applies to loathsome and unpopular speech with the same force as it does to speech that is celebrated and widely accepted. The protection would be unnecessary if it only served to safeguard the majority views. In fact, it is the minority view, including expressive behavior that is deemed distasteful and highly offensive to the vast majority of people that most often needs protection under the First Amendment… A review of Supreme Court precedent firmly establishes that the First Amendment does not countenance a heckler’s veto.”

But where do we go for protection when government goes from protector to “heckler?”

The powers that be are aligned against those who question official climate change orthodoxy.

Speaking of hot house gases, watch Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who is Jewish, lecture a Catholic priest for “disagreeing” with the Pope’s tweets, which Boxer affirms as climate change catechism. This follows Boxer telling a philosopher that his opinion is a toxic emission since he’s not a “scientist” of the Pope’s caliber. Galileo, call your office.

President Obama decreed in his State of the Union address last January that man-made climate change, not terrorism nor ISIS, is the biggest threat to the future of the planet.

Who can forget the images of terrified Parisians, Californians, and Belgians fleeing the fury of displaced polar bears?

Polar bears, take heart. Obama’s attorney general admitted to a congressional committee on March 9 that the DOJ has referred information to the FBI for possible civil actions against corporate culprits who dispute the “threat of carbon emissions.”

Not to be out-muscled, 17 state attorneys general are targeting private corporations for possibly misleading shareholders about climate change. The Conservative Enterprise Institute, a private think tank, announced on April 13 that it is also a government target:

“Last week, an intimidation campaign led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and former Vice President Al Gore reached CEI’s doors. We received a subpoena from U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker demanding CEI, a nonprofit and private organization, turn over a massive amount of documents on climate change policy work from 1997-2007, nearly 20 years ago. Needless to say, we will fight the subpoena.

It is not and cannot become a crime to disagree with a government official. Somewhere along the line, dissent from orthodoxy has transformed from a uniquely American virtue to a crime. This subpoena is a blatant attack on CEI’s First Amendment rights of free speech and association. It threatens the rights of anyone who holds opinions different from those with the power of the federal or state governments behind them.”

Government has also become the “heckler” of those who provide professional counseling to minors seeking treatment for unwanted same-sex attraction, including President Obama, who announced last year that he supports efforts to ban “gay conversion therapy.”

Oregon, New Jersey, California and Washington, D.C. prohibit licensed therapists from counseling minors who want help overcoming unwanted same-sex attraction. Try reconciling that with the expansion of minors’ health care rights, as reported by the Guttmacher Institute, March 2016:

“The legal ability of minors to consent to a range of sensitive health care services -- including sexual and reproductive health care, mental health services, and alcohol and drug abuse treatment -- has expanded dramatically over the past 30 years. This trend reflects the recognition that, while parental involvement in minors’ health care decisions is desirable, many minors will not avail themselves of important services if they are forced to involve their parents.”

On the one hand, government is the “nanny.” On the other, government is the “heckler.”

First they came for the kids. On April 13, an Ohio legislator introduced a bill banning therapy for unwanted same-sex attraction – for adults. As reported by Citizens for Community Values Action of Ohio:

“This bill has as its purpose to prohibit doctors, psychologists, licensed counselors, social workers or marriage and family therapists from ‘the practice of seeking to change a person's sexual orientation, including efforts to change behaviors, gender identity, or gender expressions, or to reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward a person of the same gender.’ Violations of this proposed statute requires state licensing boards to impose one or more sanctions: ‘suspend, revoke, or refuse to issue or renew the certificate, license, or registration’ of the professional… The actions that are not prohibited by Senate Bill 74 include… Counseling that does not seek to change a patient's sexual orientation.”

Whatever happened to the right to self-determination? The bill permits explicit viewpoint discrimination and a host of other constitutional violations. Freedom of speech, privacy rights, freedom of association, parental rights, and, in some cases, freedom of religion are victims, as well as those who provide information and those seeking information. Instead of hecklers’ violence, the means of silencing counselors is a government-imposed criminal penalty and/or loss of a state counseling license.

The absurdity here is that the speech occurs in private between counselor and patient. The “hecklers” aren’t even present to be offended. Nonetheless, it must be silenced.

Which program or school of thought will the speech police target next? As Alston Chase opined, “When the search for truth is confused with political advocacy, the pursuit of knowledge is reduced to the quest for power.”

“It is our freedom as Americans, particularly the freedom of speech, which generally allows us to express our views without fear of government sanction,” according to the Sixth Circuit.

That depends on how one is oriented in the prevailing political climate.

Jan LaRue is Senior Legal Analyst with the American Civil Rights Union.

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