The Disintegration of the First Amendment

The Disintegration of the First Amendment

The Obama Administration has engaged in an unprecedented assault on the First Amendment which is accelerating as he expands the reach of government using regulatory powers well beyond their legal limitations.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall famously wrote in McCulloch v. Maryland, one of our nation’s foundational legal decisions, that the power to tax is necessarily the power to destroy. Rather than being warded off by this admonition, Obama’s IRS is in the process of formalizing regulations that would eliminate the tax exempt status of social welfare groups that engage in political discussion. The net effect is to give the government the power to tax political speech and destroy this basic right.

The Federal Communications Commission, not to be outdone, is in the process of putting “researchers” into newsrooms and editorial offices of media outlets with an agenda of using their coercive power over the broadcasting licenses of radio and television stations to push them toward covering certain content in a way pleasing to the government. With this Administration’s obsession with Rush Limbaugh, and its proven willingness to use government against its political opponents, can there be any doubt that stations broadcasting Rush will be first in line for special “researcher” attention?

On the business front, the Securities Exchange Commission–yes, the SEC (not the scandal-ridden college football conference)–is engaged in rulemaking that would require publicly traded corporations to disclose donations to social welfare groups in an attempt to stop them from protecting their corporate interests against an avaricious government that has a constant knife to their throats.

The Labor Department and the National Labor Relations Board are seeking to tilt the scales toward Big Labor by forcing union elections as quickly as ten days after a union calls for them and effectively denying a company’s advice on what can be legally said to their employees and how it can be said.

In Wisconsin, conservative supporters of Governor Scott Walker have had their homes raided by a local prosecutor who doubles as an ardent opponent of Walker’s in a blatant legal attack on these citizens’ ability to participate in the political process. The simple fact that this can occur in a state that was the cradle of the original progressive movement which opened politics to public participation is particularly chilling.

The aforementioned FCC is also actively seeking to control content that Internet Service Providers allow to filter through to Internet users through benign-sounding net neutrality rules. This extension of government power over Internet content, no matter the stated purpose, necessitates monitoring and bureaucratic judgment over whether ISP providers are complying – effectively giving government veto authority over this democratizing speech vehicle.

We know that Obama’s Department of Justice has wiretapped AP reporters phones in an attempt to break constitutionally protected source confidentiality, and Fox News reporter James Rosen is being prosecuted by this Administration for reporting national security news.

And Obama’s Department of Homeland Security conducted an early-morning raid of the home of a Washington Times reporter over alleged firearm violations. During the raid, agents happened to confiscate the reporter’s notes related to an investigative report dealing with malfeasance at the TSA. These notes included the names of the reporter’s internal agency whistleblowers, ending not only the reporting but also most likely the careers of the whistleblowers involved.

Shocked by this list? It doesn’t even include the NSA domestic spying or hate crimes legislation that put religious leaders in jeopardy for preaching Biblical truths, or congressional efforts to license who should be considered a journalist.

What is really shocking is that every news outlet in the nation isn’t screaming at the top of its lungs decrying these varied, real, and destructive attacks on the First Amendment. The fourth estate which has vigorously defended the speech rights of pornographers, flag burners, and “artists” whom the government paid to place a crucifix in urine are strangely missing in action when it comes to Obama’s dismantling of the First Amendment.

Perhaps this lack of outrage is the most alarming part of this story, as it reveals either an acquiescence to the disintegration of the First Amendment by those who have traditionally fought so hard to defend it, or an even more sinister desire to quiet those with whom they politically disagree.

Their motivation for silence is up for interpretation, but the relative silence itself is disquieting.

Rick Manning is vice president of public policy and communications for Americans for Limited Government.

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