Some Laws that Could Save Free Speech

Over the last several years, Americans' unalienable right to free speech has been under relentless assault by an alliance of government agencies, corporations, universities, and social media giants.

Journalist Matt Taibbi testified to Congress that emails he reviewed between the government and Twitter reveal the existence of "state-sponsored thought police," a "censorship-industrial complex" that is populating the internet and legacy media with state-approved narratives and banning those ideas they consider "misinformation."  CIA and DHS ex-employees have ended up working for Twitter and other social media, helping decide who should be heard and who should be deplatformed.

Americans who dare publicly question government and media-prescribed positions on COVID-19 vaccines safety, the effectiveness of masks, the war in Ukraine, the 2020 election, lockdowns, parental rights, transgenderism, CRT and other issues face deplatforming and even subsequent possible loss of job and access to banking services.

Breitbart News recently published a chilling report on a vast, well funded "post-2016 empire of 'disinformation' censorship that ... extends far beyond the federal government," working tirelessly to "suppress non-progressive viewpoints, and harm the business models that support them."

This empire's enormous power was demonstrated in early 2021, when Twitter prevented President Trump from communicating with the American public by suspending his account.

Emboldened by Congress's decades-long practice of ceding to federal bureaucrats more and more power over the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the cars we drive, the managerial elites now strive to control what Americans hear, see, read, and ultimately think.

This information-suppression Leviathan must be dismantled lest the freedoms for which our forebears have fought to preserve over the centuries are lost forever.  As Benjamin Franklin said, "There can be no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech."

Fortunately, new proposed laws and executive orders promise to liberate Americans from the grip of these information tyrants.

House Committee on Oversight and Accountability chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) is promoting a bill, the Protecting Speech from Government Interference Act (H.R. 140), that would prohibit federal employees from pressuring social media companies to silence, censor, or deplatform Americans expressing views online.

In December 2022, former president Trump promised that upon re-election, he will ban "any federal department or agency from colluding with any organization, business, or person, to censor, limit, categorize, or impede the lawful speech of American citizens" and fire federal bureaucrats in the FBI, the DOJ, and other agencies violating this ban.

Trump would not allow federal money to be used to label domestic speech "mis-" or "disinformation."  Our founders believed that only through open discussion of all ideas can we arrive at the truth.  Thomas Jefferson said that "reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error."  Even ideas labeled "misinformation" are protected by the First Amendment, explains liberal legal expert Alan Dershowitz.  "The law is ... very skeptical of ultimate truth," he said.  "That's why freedom of speech permits lies to be told."

Trump also will place a seven-year ban on government employees working in or with Big Tech after leaving government employment and cut federal funding for universities that partner with companies to suppress speech.

Newly announced Republican presidential candidate and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, author of Woke, Inc. and A Nation of Victims, promises that if elected, he will publicly "expose every known instance in which bureaucrats have wrongfully pressured companies to take constitutionally prohibited actions."

Ramaswamy would enforce civil rights laws to protect American workers from what he labels "viewpoint discrimination."  He said, "If you can't fire someone for being black, gay or Muslim, you shouldn't be able to fire someone for his political speech."  Ramaswamy challenges companies and universities to prove their commitment to diversity by recruiting equal numbers of liberals and conservatives.

He would consider every company or school that works "in concert" with members of the federal government — i.e. "state actors" — to be as bound by the First Amendment free speech requirement as are federal employees.

Using Ramaswamy's reasoning, any organization that gets a federal tax break, research grant, or even student tuition support could be construed as "acting in concert" with the federal government and would be thus bound by the First Amendment's free speech requirement.

Since companies and organizations are forbidden by law to impose religious beliefs on employees or students, Ramaswamy's administration would consider it illegal for companies to force employees to undergo training in woke "religious" beliefs such as climate ideology and CRT.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis's Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act specifically forbids most Florida companies and universities from pressuring employees and students to undergo "training" in concepts such as the superiority of one race or sex over another, the inherent racism or sexism of one sex or race, and the idea that an individual, by virtue of his race, sex, or national origin, bears responsibility for actions of those of the same race, sex, or national origin.

Organizations can't compel employees or students to espouse the idea that widely accepted virtues such as hard work, merit, fairness, excellence, objectivity, and racial colorblindness are somehow racist or sexist, or that these are ideas were created primarily to oppress members of a particular race, sex, or national origin.

The bill safeguards open discussion of these topics if conducted in an "objective manner without endorsements of the concepts."  However, as Stanford professor Joseph Rauh writes in the Wall Street Journal, such laws mitigate against employees and students feeling intimated by "the hierarchical power arrangements between teacher and student or manager and employee to adopt certain left-wing Marxist woke ideologies."

DeSantis has stated that as president, he would roll out this type of bill nationally.

Such free speech laws could conceivably enable a President Trump or DeSantis to order the DOJ to use RICO statutes against companies that, for instance, colluded to withdraw millions of dollars of advertising on Twitter in reaction to Elon Musk buying Twitter and restoring free speech on the platform.

Such laws would block BlackRock and other multibillion-dollar lenders from using capital investment to bully major corporations into adopting woke practices.  (Nike and Bud Light are featuring transgender spokespersons in their advertisements to maintain their access to BlackRock's capital resources.)

Racketeering laws could be used to investigate chain stores that tacitly collude to ban from their shelves products of companies with whom they disagree politically.  Costco, Kohl's, Walmart, JCP, and a host of other outlets banned MyPillow products to protest Mike Lindell's campaign for election integrity.

Free speech laws must prohibit universities and other organizations from censoring speech via proxy — recently, Antifa-style tactics were used to attempt to shut down a federal judge's Stanford University speech.

Such laws could even be used to prohibit the federal government from creating social credit or digital currency systems that would hand the government enormous power to punish citizens who publicly disagree with government policies.

Inaction by Congress is not an option.  Congress's failure to fight censorship effectively makes that body complicit in the abridgement of our constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech.

Censorship continues unabated.  The RESTRICT Act, ostensibly an anti-TikTok law, is so broadly worded that it can easily be employed to severely limit Americans' free speech.  A powerful U.K. government official is openly calling for jailing social media owners who allow "unhealthy" and "dangerous" ideas on their platforms.  Soon after Senator Chuck Schumer claimed that Tucker Carlson's program incited violence and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) called for federal scrutiny of Fox News reporters and other conservative journalists for "incitement to violence," Fox terminated Carlson.

Congress cannot wait for the inauguration of Trump or DeSantis to begin restoring free speech to all Americans.  The Comer legislation should be passed now.  Congress can also use the power of the purse to enforce the First Amendment.  Congress could suspend funding to universities such as San Francisco State University and the University of Albany, which do little to prevent the harassment and physical intimidation of conservative speakers.

As former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee reminded us, our government censors are "currently being paid by people like you and me whose taxes fund these federally funded jobs."  Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) wants to reform the Appropriations Act so Congress could "zero out" the salaries of bureaucrats who abuse the liberties of Americans.

Ben Franklin warned Americans that "in those wretched countries where a man cannot call his tongue his own, he can scarce call anything his own."

Only by immediately passing free speech laws can we ensure that the United States does not become one of those "wretched countries."

Sociologist Michael G. Zey, Ph.D. is the author of Ageless Nation, Seizing the Future and The Future Factor, professor, Montclair State University (retired). Facebook.

Image via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

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