Saturday, January 20, 2007

Protecting Free Speech

Those who are zealous to protect first amendment rights of free speech often remind the public that those guarantees only become relevant when an issue involves types of speech that are repulsive to a large percentage of the populace -- that is, the types of speech that a large percentage of people might wish to ban. Thus, they point out the importance of recognizing first amendment protections for expressive behavior such as lap dancing and flag burning. That some of those same persons, who are willing to stretch constitutional language to make "speech" include "expression," are willing to defend explicit bans on unwanted political speech boggles the mind.

Yet, that is exactly what happens with regard to defense of the McCain Feingold Act, which responded to concerns that "too much" money is spent by "special interests" on political advertising prior to elections. McCain Feingold prohibits "issue ads" produced and paid for by private groups unaffiliated with political campaigns and that mention any of the candidates by name for specified periods of time prior to an election. This is an undisguised attack on the free speech rights of Americans of all political persuasions. That some would deem it to be in the public interest to allow politicians to so regulate political speech by determining how much money is enough, and by referring to the concerns of many very real Americans as mere "special interests," only shows that the core purpose of the constitution can be lost in the fog of speech that some consider inconvenient.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases related to this ban. Those who share a special interest in first amendment protections should hope they rule it unconstitutional.

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