In the News
By Kate Fishman
Four residents of the Pennsbury School District have filed a lawsuit against an array of district employees and appointees, saying policies on public comment at school board meetings violated their First Amendment rights.
Douglas Marshall, Simon Campbell, Robert Abrams, and Timothy Daly have all, over a period of several years, had written comments go unread or had spoken comments be removed from Pennsbury’s video records of meetings, according to the suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania…
Board Policy 903 is one of the key policies the plaintiffs take issue with. It states, among other provisions, that the solicitor present at board meetings may “interrupt or terminate a participant’s statement when the statement is too lengthy, personally directed, abusive, obscene, or irrelevant.” They feel that this provision has been stretched to include justification for removing comments from video records of board meetings, a practice they say violates the right to free speech…
Alan Gura, Endel Kolde, and Martha Astor from the D.C. non-profit Institute for Free Speech are representing the plaintiffs, as is Michael Gottlieb of Norristown.
Wall Street Journal (LTE): Revised H.R.1 Has a Plan for a Government Speech Czar
By David Keating
The new Democratic voting- and speech-regulation bill dropped the idea of switching “the Federal Election Commission to an odd number of seats.” Unfortunately, it proposes an even worse approach (“The Enormity of Manchin’s Skinny H.R.1,” Review & Outlook, Sept. 22).
Today, it takes the votes of four of the six FEC commissioners to initiate an investigation or find a campaign violation. The skinny H.R.1 would hand that power to the agency’s general counsel, an employee not subject to Senate confirmation…
The bill makes the general counsel a speech czar, with a tie going to the censor.
New from the Institute for Free Speech
By Bradley A. Smith
On behalf of the Institute for Free Speech (“IFS”), I submit these comments in response to the Commission’s Notification of Availability of a Petition for Rulemaking (“Petition”) filed by the Campaign Legal Center and the Center on Science & Technology Policy at Duke University. The Petition seeks to amend regulations at 11 CFR 104.3(b) (political committee reporting), 109.10(e) (independent expenditure reporting), and 104.20(c) (electioneering communication reporting) to require reporters under these provisions to itemize certain payments by vendors to subvendors. The Commission seeks comment “on the Petition” to help determine if “the Petition has merit.”
At the outset, we note that there is some question as to whether the statute permits the Commission to demand that committees report on subcontractors, at least where those subcontractors are retained by vendors without a committee’s prior knowledge. The statute provides that “[e]ach report under this section shall disclose. . . (5) the name and address of each – (A) person to whom an expenditure in an aggregate amount or value in excess of $200 within the calendar year is made by the reporting committee. . . .” Payments by vendors, at least when not earmarked or without other prior, specific authorization by a committee, are not expenditures “by the reporting committee.” Furthermore, the reporting recommended by the Commission would require vendors to report to committees on their use of subvendors within specific (and often very short) time frames. This effectively creates a whole new category of reporting entities without statutory authorization of any kind. If a vendor fails to report the required information to a committee, would the Commission assess penalties against the vendor? On what authority? If not, would or could committees be held liable for the failure of the vendor? How is this expected to work? …
By Nathan Maxwell
A Pew Research Center survey conducted this summer revealed that 48% of the country believes the government should step in to restrict false information online. The rest of the headline above is either misinformation or hyperbole, depending on which half you ask.
There are countless issues with combating “misinformation,” and social media companies haven’t failed for lack of trying. Misinformation is nearly impossible to define and police neutrally, and decisions made to that end are extremely controversial. But rather than recount the debate about whether a crackdown on misinformation is necessary or desirable, let’s assume for the moment that it is. Should the government be charged with that responsibility? The short answer is no. And the long one…
The power to classify speech we disagree with as “misinformation” that needs to be eliminated is an invitation to silence the political opposition. “Misinformation” is primarily a political pejorative – that’s just how we use it…
Any hope that Congress would require neutral, bipartisan policing of online misinformation is wishful thinking. We can see many in Congress care very little for neutral speech-policing by looking at how they treat the bipartisan Federal Election Commission. The new “Freedom to Vote Act,” just like its failed predecessors H.R. 1 and S. 1, would undermine even-handedness at the FEC and open the door to targeted enforcement.
Insofar as misinformation is a problem, free speech is the solution.
After being repeatedly censored, badgered, and shouted down by school board officials, a group of parents and community members filed a federal lawsuit late Friday against the leaders of the Pennsbury School Board. The Board’s policies and actions restricting speech at public meetings violate the First Amendment, the lawsuit explains.
“Pennsbury officials are trampling on the First Amendment rights of parents and residents to speak their mind about their schools. They have cut off parents in the middle of sentences, yelled over critics to prevent them from being heard, edited remarks out of recordings of public meetings, and intimidated speakers by forcing them to publicly announce their home address,” said Institute for Free Speech Vice President for Litigation Alan Gura, who is representing the plaintiffs.
Video of Pennsbury’s aggressive censorship, which went viral this summer, shows community members being silenced simply for raising arguments Board officials disagreed with. While school boards may terminate comments that are obscene, exceed the allotted time limit, or lack decorum, they may not censor speech based on its viewpoint.
During one public meeting held on May 20, Pennsbury Assistant Solicitor Peter Amuso repeatedly interrupted residents who raised concerns about a new district policy, shouting “You’re done!” until they left the microphone. When a resident criticized the same policy at an earlier March 18 meeting, the School Board removed the remarks from its video recording of the meeting. Internal district emails confirmed that Board leaders removed the comment due to the views expressed by the speaker.
By Kendall Tietz
Attorney General Merrick Garland called on the FBI to “use its authority” against parents who threaten or use violence against public school officials in a Monday memorandum…
The Department of Justice’s memorandum did not specify what it classifies as a crime and did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for clarification on the matter.
Garland’s statement follows a letter from the National School Board Association (NSBA) that asked the federal government to get involved in the “immediate threat” of violence from parents faced by American public schools and its education officials. The NSBA said the incidents could be “the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”
“It is shameful that activists are weaponizing the US Department of Justice against parents,” Nicole Neily, president of Parents Defending Education told the Daily Caller News Foundation in response to the memorandum. “This is a coordinated attempt to intimidate dissenting voices in the debates surrounding America’s underperforming K-12 education – and it will not succeed. We will not be silenced.”
Reason (Volokh Conspiracy): Denials of Professional Licenses Based on Past Social Media Posts
By Eugene Volokh
My UCLA First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic students Max Hyams, Eimile Nolan, and Simon Ruhland and I have just filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education in support of the cert. petition in Gray v. Maine Department of Public Safety…
[H]ere’s our brief:
Nearly a quarter of American workers are in occupations subject to licensure requirements. Paul J. Larkin, Jr., Public Choice Theory and Occupational Licensing, 39 Harv. J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 209, 210 (2016). Still more Americans are students at universities or in other programs who are seeking to become licensed professionals.
If they could lose their licenses, or be denied licenses, or be expelled from licensing programs because of their public speech on controversial issues, they would be powerfully chilled from engaging in such speech. Many professionals and would-be professionals would thus feel pressured to “‘steer … wider of the unlawful zone'” and remain silent on issues of public concern, such as police misconduct . . . .
By Michael Hill
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren agreed to resign shortly before her term ends as part of a deal to settle charges she violated campaign finance rules during her 2017 reelection campaign.
Warren was scheduled to go on trial Monday on felony charges she and two assistants took steps to evade contribution limits. Instead, Warren and her two co-defendants each pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of accepting campaign contributions that exceeded legal limits, according to the Monroe County district attorney’s office.
Wall Street Journal: The IRS Wants to Look at Your Bank Account
By The Editorial Board
Charles Rettig, commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, wants banks to report annual cash flows for ordinary account holders. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is promoting the plan, and the House Ways and Means Committee is debating whether to include this mandate in the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion spending bill.
Ms. Yellen says the reporting will help to catch wealthy tax dodgers…
Yet the IRS plans to review every account above a $600 balance, or with more than $600 of transactions in a year. So every American with a job could get looked over. A group of 41 industry groups recently warned congressional leaders that the plan “is not remotely targeted” to detect major tax avoidance.
It’s also a privacy breach waiting to happen. Not long ago the confidential tax records of Jeff Bezos, Mike Bloomberg and other wealthy Americans were exposed by ProPublica. Whoever leaked or hacked those records committed a crime, but the IRS has revealed nothing from its promised investigation. Adding bank account info to the IRS trove would risk the disclosure of savings and spending information of political adversaries in the same way.
Philadelphia Inquirer: On American campuses, students are biting their tongues
By Jonathan Zimmerman
[O]n American campuses today, we’re biting our own tongues. So we’re not reaping the full benefits of diversity, which is supposed to teach us about each other.
Witness a recent survey of over 37,000 students at more than 150 colleges and universities, cosponsored by the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which reported that over four-fifths of students self-censor at least some of the time and one-fifth do so “fairly often” or “very often.” Over half (51%) identified racial inequality as the most difficult topic to discuss, just ahead of the George Floyd protests (43%) and transgender issues (42%)…
Yet I haven’t heard many of my fellow professors — or any major university leader — decry self-censorship in higher education. Some of them are probably afraid to say what they think, just like their students are. Others imagine that diversity requires a certain kind of verbal reticence, so that all students feel comfortable on our campuses.
That patronizes students, all in the guise of protecting them. And it flouts the spirit of affirmative action, which was premised on the idea that people of different backgrounds can teach each other. That will not always be easy or pleasant, for anybody. But if we can’t talk, we can’t learn. Period.
Online Speech Platforms
By Allum Bokhari
A Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, is set to appear before the Senate Commerce Committee [today]. She’s far from the first Big Tech whistleblower to expose Silicon Valley’s inner workings — but she is one of the first to call for more censorship, not less. That’s probably why the establishment media has embraced her with open arms.
It’s also probably why she’s one of the only whistleblowers to be invited to testify to the Senate. I’m sure Democrats love the idea of a Facebook insider telling them the company needs more regulation to stop “hate speech” and “disinformation” — which is what she’s clearly called for in recent interviews.
Haugen was part of Facebook’s infamous “Civic Integrity” group, the unit charged with watching over (i.e, interfering) in the last presidential election.
Haugen left because she didn’t think it went far enough.
Despite its vast apparatus of censorship, the politically biased “fact checking” apparatus, the bans of prominent conservative influencers, the ban of Donald Trump himself, Haugen thinks the platform isn’t taking down enough “dangerous” content.
Some Big Tech whistleblowers, it seems, are more equal than others. Why has the Commerce Committee never invited Ryan Hartwig, Cassandra Spencer, or Zach McElroy, all Facebook contractors and employees, who revealed detailed information about Facebook’s biased content moderation practices to the public?