A New Attack on Free Speech
A very troubling development in Washington — a new attack on our First Amendment right of free speech by the Obama Administration.
Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) wrote to President Obama expressing his concerns about a recent post on the White House blog written by Macon Phillips, the White House Director of New Media.
In his post, Phillips notes “There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there” both on the web and floating around in chain emails. Phillips states that “Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.”
In a nutshell, the White House is asking you to report on your neighbors, family, and friends who disagree with the President’s policy choices on health care. The White House is also implying that you should think twice before sending an email disagreeing with the President, since it might end up being forwarded to them. The White House email address says it all — let’s “flag” those who disagree with us. For what purpose are these individuals being flagged?
In his letter, Senator Cornyn rightly seeks assurances from President Obama that this new reporting program will be “carried out in a manner consistent with the First Amendment and America’s tradition of free speech and public discourse.” He poses several questions, including, “How do you intend to use the names, email addresses, IP addresses, and identities of citizens who are reported to have engaged in ‘fishy’ speech” and “What action do you intend to take against citizens who have been reported for engaging in ‘fishy’ speech.”
The First Amendment states, in part, that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” Our Founding Fathers fought and died for the right to speak openly and freely about the government.
President Obama campaigned on the promise of a more transparent and open government. His new White House reporting program seems aimed at stifling debate on his health care reform plan. While he knows that he cannot “ban” such speech, I imagine that he thinks that the fear of being reported to the authorities will discourage many naysayers from speaking out. I am concerned about what White House “program” will come next. Who else do we need to “flag?” Will it be those who attend town halls and speak in opposition to health care reform? What about those who write op-eds? Or perhaps those who speak out against mandated abortion coverage on the radio?
The American Center For Law And Justice is sending a letter to President Obama demanding that he withdraw and rescind this citizen reporting program. You can read the letter here.