Social-justice warriors readying a new war on free speech?

Last month, the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman reported that backers of same-sex marriage laws will shift their efforts, now that it appears that courts are ready to impose a constitutional right to state recognition of those relationships. The big activists behind the legislative and court fight will start taking aim at other laws, especially those which allow for dissent and choice on participation in such events. The idea is to “protect people from prejudice” on the basis of sexual identity and orientation:


The new effort, Freedom for All Americans — a $5 million-a-year campaign over the next five years — is predicated on the fights around gay marriage, which played out state by state until reaching the Supreme Court in a fight that, advocates hope, will legalize same-sex marriage nationally.

The idea behind FFAA is to eventually get a major federal nondiscrimination bill that protects people from prejudice based on sexuality and gender identity. In the meantime, the group’s backers will fight on a state-by-state level, such as in Indiana, where opponents of Gov. Mike Pence’s religious rights bill worked to force a revision that added gay rights protections.

The new group is a partnership of the American Unity Fund, a super PAC created by the hedge fund executive Paul Singer, as well as the Gill Foundation and the Gill Action Fund. Tim Gill, a Colorado-based Democratic activist and philanthropist, has been a major financial backer of same-sex marriage efforts.

Don’t believe that for a moment, writes Stella Morabito at The Federalist. The activists at FFAA want to declare war on free speech and free association, especially targeting conservatives and Republicans. The FFAA comprises some of the usual suspects in those efforts, Morabito writes, and the end goal is an enforced silence:

Since the Democrats, academia, Hollywood, and the media are already arms of the LGBT lobby, the basic thrust of the American Unity Fund’s “Freedom for All Americans” campaign/slogan/meme is to persuade those darned Republicans and pesky conservatives to set aside their principles and get with the program.

On the surface, this “Freedom for All” slogan sounds innocuous, almost like motherhood (to borrow a quaint notion). Who would ever support discrimination? But this is not your grandfather’s (another quaint notion) Civil Rights Act. Because that old notion of civil rights was back in the days when the First Amendment remained intact for all to enjoy. …

One of the coordinators of the project, hedge fund manager Dan Loeb, told The New York Times that pushing for these laws is “critical in order to change understanding against gays.” In other words, the laws themselves are supposed to lead to a change in the public attitudes. Can laws really do this?

Notwithstanding the awkward construction, Loeb’s statement is loaded. To claim that more anti-discrimination laws are “critical in order to change understanding against gays” basically reveals that the professed purpose of these laws is coercive thought reform.

Laws intended to change how individuals think—about anything—require enforced silencing. If the “Freedom for All Americans” meme is about freedom (which it’s not), then it’s only about negative freedom. That is, freedom from “discrimination.” Freedom from “hate.” Which basically gives carte blanche to those holding power (ultimately, the state) to define and cherry pick whatever “discrimination” and “hate” may mean before granting whatever due process is left over for the accused.


So laws of this sort, hiding under the fig leaf of “anti-discrimination,” will give the state the power to police speech and behaviors.

That seems to be pretty cool with a growing number of Americans, too. Allahpundit called it a “disgrace,” but it’s also an ever-present impulse among those who are so insecure that they can’t handle dissent or criticism. As I write in my column for The Fiscal Times, we’ve toyed with this kind of oppression before, with disastrous consequences:

But how did America finally rid ourselves of the century of oppression of civil rights? Through unfettered use of the freedom of speech. Activists marched at Selma, demonstrated on street corners, took to the airwaves to scold the nation for its indifference, and changed the hearts and minds of Americans through the power of their argument and their truth.

What would have happened had we carved out this rather large exception to the First Amendment in, say, 1945? Had we handed the government the power to determine which speech was “hateful” and which was allowable at that point, would the civil rights movement succeeded as it did? Or would government have simply jailed people for upsetting others through their speech, imprisoning them for “hating” America as it was at that time?

For that matter, consider the anti-war movement that followed that era, in opposition to the Vietnam conflict. How would that movement, with its “America – love it or leave it” counter-response, have unfolded if the federal government decided that it was “hate speech” directed against the military? That could be considered a fair description of a significant amount of that rhetoric at the time.

Some will scoff at that hypothetical, but it actually did take place – fifty years earlier. The Sedition Act of 1918 did precisely that at the end of World War I, and the US prosecuted people for their dissent to the war. Railroad tycoon William Edenborn was arrested for scoffing at the idea that Germany could threaten the national security of the US in much the same manner as others do today about radical jihad in the Middle East.

Eugene Debs, a Socialist organizer, got a ten-year prison sentence for protesting the draft and exhorting people to refuse conscription. The law, along with its parent Espionage Act of 1917, allowed the Postmaster General to dictate the kind of speech that would be delivered. More than 1500 people were arrested for their speech, and only 10 for actual acts or attempts of sabotage.

It’s important to note that the latter example took place in a time of war, but A. Mitchell Palmer wanted the Sedition Act of 1918 extended into peacetime after he saw how easy it was to use for silencing political opposition. (Instead, embarrassed at the abuses, Congress repealed the statutes in 1920.) Censorship, whether it be for “hate speech” or lese majeste, or “insulting the nation,” will always get used to silence people, and to impose a social order by force rather than persuasion. The people who choose it do so usually because their agenda is so unpalatable that they can’t sustain it any other way.

There will always be those who insist that Utopia has to be imposed, that utter equality requires thought police, and that silence is preferable to debate. Their names have been Robespierre, Mao, and Palmer in the past, but Americans used to know better than to fall in line behind them. The social justice thought police has always been with us, but it’s the rising impulse to trade liberty for power among the rest that should have us worried — and speaking out in order to remain able to speak out.


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