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Neither Left Nor Right, But Catholic . . . The Left’s Denigration Of Free Speech

May 11, 2022 Frontpage No Comments

By STEPHEN M. KRASON

A half-century and more ago, liberalism was known for defending free speech. Liberals spoke and wrote vigorously in defense of the decisions of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren that gave almost absolute protection to freedom of expression — even extending that to propagandists for Communism, which aims to destroy all freedom. There was no question for liberals then that political speech was above legal reproach. They insisted that a healthy society requires a completely free exchange of ideas, no matter what positions were being espoused and promoted. What we are seeing now on the American left is a striking contrast.
The left’s readiness to suppress speech that supports or advocates views it disagrees with is evident just from the following small sampling of recent facts. First, there is the left’s pushing the idea of suppressing “hate” speech, whose definition is dangerously vague. It typically applies to expressions critical of certain groups of people. Does that mean that criticizing BLM is “racist” or attacking the homosexualist movement is “homophobic,” and so can be suppressed and punished? Eric Sammons, the editor of Crisis Magazine, wrote that he was recently locked out of his Twitter account for engaging in “hateful conduct” for writing that homosexuality is a sin, abortion is murder, and transgenderism is a sign of mental illness.
What Twitter did is typical enough of big tech companies, which are notorious for their leftist orientation. While this is not a constitutional issue, as with government suppressing free speech, it tells us a great deal about the intolerance the left has with opposing viewpoints and how it will do what it can to stop them from being expressed. By the way, the left is currently up in arms that Elon Musk has purchased Twitter and says that he wants to stop its censorship.
We hear the American left clamoring for censoring the Internet, as is done in China. They want to stop what they claim is “fake news” on the Internet, which is often nothing more than what they are ideologically opposed to. Democrats in Congress have long called for censoring social media sites, and the sites have often obligingly gone along — censoring, of course, those expressing what are considered conservative views.
Cong. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the highest profile leftists, has attacked Facebook for not censoring what she calls “false” political ads (i.e., those she disagrees with). Prominent Democratic Cong. Adam Schiff of California did her even better by writing to the executives of Google, Twitter (before Musk), and YouTube demanding censorship of anything deemed “misinformation” and “false information.”
Now the Biden administration has begun to act on these demands. The Department of Homeland Security has established a Disinformation Governance Board. Its claim is that the board is supposed to counter false information by human smuggling organizations and by countries like Russia trying to interfere with American elections and is motivated by national security concerns.
It will be headed by a leftist ideologue who says that most disinformation comes from conservatives and has claimed that online mockery of Vice President Harris and other women in public life — no doubt, she means leftist ones — threatens national security. Unsurprisingly, congressional Republicans have are denouncing this board as an “Orwellian Ministry of Truth.”
The Democrats’ 2016 presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, has said that political speech — the area of speech historically given the most constitutional protection — should be regulated to preclude the “manipulation of information.” Of course, that is a not too well disguised euphemism for censoring ideas she and the left don’t like. Coming from a major leader of the left, one can be sure she represents a widely held viewpoint on that side of the political spectrum.
The Democratic stronghold of California mandated that the staff at crisis pregnancy centers had to effectively advocate for abortion by requiring them to inform the pregnant women who come to them where they could go to get free or cheap abortions. The Supreme Court rejected the mandate as a violation of free speech.
The ACLU, supposedly the great defender of constitutional rights for a century, has come over time to be known as just another leftist special interest group. When it comes to free speech, it has increasingly become known as the defender only of speech that doesn’t go against leftist views. Its former longtime president Ira Glasser even expressed a concern that the organization was losing its commitment to being a “content-neutral defender of free speech.” An ACLU official indicated that the organization would probably not defend what it considers to be “hate speech.
Even The New York Times commented about how the organization, which it said has become a “progressive powerhouse,” is riven with internal conflicts about whether it is any longer committed to the First Amendment.
During the 2020 campaign Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke threatened to strip churches of their tax-exempt status if they opposed something that has become sacrosanct to the left: same-sex “marriage.” To be sure, other leading Democrats opposed him on that — at least for now. O’Rourke was actually outdone by another Democrat, Cong. Jared Huffman of California, who said that the Catholic Church should have its tax-exempt status revoked if Joe Biden isn’t allowed to receive Holy Communion. Here is a case where leftists seek to subvert both free speech and religious freedom — in other words, to destroy most of the First Amendment.

Pursued By A Mob

The suppression of speech — especially that espousing positions contrary to left-wing orthodoxy — is even more pronounced on many college and university campuses. A study by FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) revealed that a full 92 percent of American higher education institutions had policies prohibiting certain categories of constitutionally protected speech. Many of these institutions are state-controlled or related, and so constitutional standards would directly apply to them.
This, coupled with what we’re lately hearing about the indoctrination occurring in pre-college education, makes it unsurprising that in surveys 60 percent of young people say that the First Amendment should be changed to ban speech they don’t like.
It’s not surprising that we recently saw episodes like the one at the State University of New York at Buffalo — I received my law degree and Ph.D. from there — where prominent black conservative Alan West was stopped from speaking about how America isn’t a racist country and had to be protected by campus police. The student organizers of his talk were assaulted and pursued by a mob.
All of this suggests even more ominous implications for free speech in America a generation down the road when such violent student radicals become political leaders.
If there is a word to describe what the left’s desire to suppress free speech demonstrates — just like its seeming to dispense with the rule of law when it suits its purposes, as I have written about previously in The Wanderer — is its authoritarian impulse. While certain elements of the left have long demonstrated this, a particularly disturbing current fact is that it now seems to be characteristic of even mainstream liberalism and of prominent members — indeed even high officeholders — of the Democratic Party.
The very maintenance of liberty ostensibly is becoming the central issue in American politics and these developments signal the need for anyone concerned about maintaining our traditions and the character of our democratic republic to step up, organize, and aggressively resist the leftist effort to suppress it.

  • + + (Stephen M. Krason is professor of political science and legal studies and associate director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is also co-founder and president of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists and a lawyer. Among his books is The Transformation of the American Democratic Republic.)
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