Freedom of speech cannot be limited

Published on Monday, 20 January 2014 20:47 - Written by

It’s always nice when the goose acknowledges that the gander has a point. So when prominent thinkers on the left point out the dangers of Democratic overreach — should power shift and Republicans take the reins — it’s worth paying attention.

Democrat Kirsten Powers, writing for the Daily Beast (the website that was once Newsweek magazine) said that rules made to shut down speech on abortion (an issue dear to the hearts of Democrats) could be used to shut down speech from environmentalists and unions.

As the articles notes, “Anti-free speech zones used to silence pro-lifers could come back to haunt liberals.”

“The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday for McCullen v. Coakley, a case in which anti-abortion activists argue that their First Amendment rights have been violated by a 2007 Massachusetts law that bars any person from entering or staying in fixed 35-foot-buffer zones around entrances to abortion clinics,” Powers writes. “By ‘any person’ they mean ‘any person who says something negative about abortion,’ because there are exceptions for people going into or coming out of the building, people using the sidewalk to get somewhere else, law enforcement officials, and clinic employees. If you fall into one of the categories of exception, you are allowed to speak in the zone. If you don’t, the government says you are not allowed to speak.”

The rule makes for some absurd scenarios. It penalizes one viewpoint and protects others. That’s positively illiberal, Powers points out.

Powers reports, “Mark Rienzi, who argued the case against the buffer zones, told the Court that the zone is, ‘a place where the government claims it can essentially turn off the First Amendment’ for some people but not others. Justice Scalia described it as a ‘dead speech zone.’ What is perhaps most disturbing is that the Massachusetts law was created by people who call themselves liberal. It is also being defended by an assortment of liberals from the ACLU to Planned Parenthood. Which raises an obvious question: Is it now liberal to oppose free speech?”

The logic behind the rule is inconsistent. Even worse (for the left) is that it could be applied to other matters.

“But even if this law was constitutional — and it isn’t — one has to consider the implications of accepting the government exercising such a broad power that infringes on constitutionally protected free speech,” she writes. “Ironically, a law championed by liberals could end up having dire implications for many liberal causes.”

That includes environmentalism and unions.

“If the Supreme Court were to uphold the Massachusetts law, it’s not hard to imagine businesses lobbying to create zones where union members are not allowed to speak, but workers for the business are,” she writes. “Businesses could use the same logic used in McCullen: the picketers are disrupting business and upsetting customers. So, government, please silence them — even though they are standing on a public sidewalk.”

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander — and the converse is true.

A bad rule for some will eventually a bad rule for others.