John Hood: Who really opposes free speech?

Jun. 02, 2014 @ 07:55 PM

RALEIGH — In a free society, the right to express one’s political views without governmental restraint or reprisal ought to be sacrosanct. Unfortunately, it isn’t. Some politicians and activists seem to believe they have the right not just to express their views but also to limit the right of others to do the same.
In today’s political environment, these enemies of free speech reside primarily on the Left side of the ideological spectrum. While their position lacks intellectual rigor or consistency, it is frequently and loudly asserted with an admittedly impressive amount of unmitigated gall.
Contrast these two examples: the North Carolina Legislature’s response to liberal and progressive critics vs. the United States Senate’s response to conservative and libertarian critics.
Here in North Carolina, a rightward turn in the 2010 and 2012 cycles elected a Republican governor and General Assembly. These officials, in turn, followed through on their longtime party platform to reform and reduce state taxes, alleviate the regulatory burden on business, broaden parental choice and competition in education, and enact other conservative policies.
Last year, a collection of left-wing groups began sponsoring weekly protests at the Legislative Building in Raleigh. The so-called Moral Monday movement grew to encompass thousands of activists from across the state and beyond.
ust before the 2014 session convened, the Legislative Services Commission released a revised set of building rules. Although Moral Monday activists and like-minded editorialists claim the revision was some kind of tyrannical imposition, the truth is quite different. The new rules make it clear that the Legislative Building is open to all to say anything they like to anyone they like — as long as their actions are consistent with the equal rights of others to do the same, and of elected officials to perform their duties.
That means that lobbying lawmakers is fine but shouting them down is not. It means that assembling to protest legislative action is fine but that assembling to block access to legislative chambers or offices is not.
A limitation of free speech? Baloney. Similar rules are in place at virtually every other deliberative body in the United States, including Congress. Neither U.S. House Speaker John Boehner nor U.S. Senate leader Harry Reid would dream of allowing protestors to obstruct or shout down congressional proceedings.
Speaking of Reid, however, he and his political allies have long sought to limit First Amendment protections to corporations they like, such as The New York Times, while denying First Amendment protections to corporations they dislike, such as Koch Industries. In light of the widely reported efforts of Reid’s Democratic colleagues to sic the IRS on conservative groups they dislike, the only reasonable conclusion here is that they believe freedom of speech belongs only to those who express the “proper” views, not to every individual or group of individuals who may wish to exercise it.
Those who assert that liberals revere free speech more than conservatives do are making a phony claim. I’ll still defend their right to make it, however.

John Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.