June 15, 2012

McConnell on Threat to Free Speech

Statement of CFJ President Curt Levey on today’s speech by Sen. Mitch McConnell:

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell will give an important speech this morning on the “Growing threats to our First Amendment rights.” Sen. McConnell’s remarks are not yet available, but we’re guessing he will address threats from the Left, including from the Obama Administration and perhaps outside groups on the Left.

We take this opportunity to address the latter, specifically the threat to free speech posed by groups on the Left who believe that silencing opposing viewpoints is more effective than refuting them. Some people dismiss this threat as outside the scope of the First Amendment, which applies to actions by government. However, left-wing groups are increasingly crossing the First Amendment line by enlisting – or even partnering with – government to do their dirty work.

Examples include abusive lawsuits and other abuses of the court system; invasion of privacy through Freedom of Information requests; use of 911 calls to harass (see recent SWAT’ing of conservative bloggers); attacks on broadcast licenses; enactment of speech codes at state universities; and other attempts to criminalize speech.

And that’s on top of silencing techniques employed by the Left that, while non-governmental, are either unlawful or dangerously close to the line of illegality. Examples include espionage, perjury, computer hacking and denial of service attacks, harassment and intimidation of conservatives and their families, and various invasions of privacy.

While conservative groups are not free of sin when it comes to trying to silence opposing points of view, the use of unlawful or governmental methods to do so has been largely limited to the Left. One of the worst abusers is the controversial left-wing group Media Matters.

To conservatives, we say that the answer to the “growing threats to our First Amendment rights” is to defend free speech rather than attempting to fight the Left’s fire with fire. From the summary of Sen. McConnell’s speech – promising “a renewed defense of the right to free speech and [a] call on all Americans to unite and remain vigilant in defending the Constitution” – it appears that he will lead this charge.

Look for further discussion of this topic here in the days ahead. Meanwhile, feel free to call or write with any questions.

Sen. McConnell’s speech this morning will take place at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, DC. See here for more information.