NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Free Speech Out Of Fashion With Liberals

January 4, 2001

Free speech has gone out of fashion in liberal circles in the Clinton administration, says Stuart Taylor Jr. of the National Journal. Even the national media have become selective when it comes to supporting the First Amendment. While a few liberal groups like the American Civil Liberties Union are still foursquare for free speech, most support it only when convenient.

Among recent assaults on free speech:

  • The city of Denver and the Justice Department's Community Relations Service pressured Italian-Americans into barring any mention of Columbus in its Columbus Day parade after caving in to threats of protest by Hispanics and American Indians.
  • A federal appeals court held September 27 that Housing and Urban Development officials in California had flagrantly violated the First Amendment by threatening three law-abiding Berkeley residents with heavy fines after they spoke out against a proposed public housing project in their neighborhood.
  • The Supreme Court upheld a Colorado law barring peaceful abortion protesters from coming from within eight feet of women entering abortion clinics, fashioning a double standard giving them less First Amendment protection than labor pickets and others - and "contradicting more than a half-century First Amendment principles," according to Justice Anthony Kennedy.
  • Efforts by universities to squelch expression of politically incorrect speech are as pervasive and coercive as ever, extending even to Columbia University's criticizing a law professor's wording of a final exam.

Campaign finance reform, meanwhile, typically means banning soft money and constricting political fundraising and spending by independent groups. But as Justice William Brennan wrote in Buckley v. Valeo in 1976, "The concept that government may restrict the speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voices of others is wholly foreign to the First Amendment."

Source: Stuart Taylor, Jr., "Conservatives Champion Free Speech," Dallas Morning News, December 31, 2000.

 

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