Not long ago, Americans with near unanimity echoed Voltaire’s commitment to freedom of speech: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
While other liberties may be even more indispensable to a free society, freedom of speech is the most universally embraced of our constitutional freedoms. Yet restrictions on even this freedom are being erected daily – often by government officials expended to defend freedom.
Law professor David Bernstein, author of You Can’t Say That, explains that government agencies routinely make freedom of speech a secondary consideration, subservient to anti-discrimination policies.
Freedom of “speech, assembly and religion had been crucial to the success of the civil rights movement,” so early anti-discrimination laws respected the First Amendment, Bernstein writes. Now that anti-discrimination policies are pervasive, civil rights groups have shifted their focus from promoting freedom for all to enforcing “an austere moralism.”
You Can’t Say That abounds with examples of liberals using government to impose their morality on the unwashed masses. But it doesn’t spare conservatives, either.
“If judges routinely announced that government’s compelling interest in eradicating violent crime trumped the enforcement of constitutional rights, civil libertarians would strongly protest,” says Bernstein. “Yet few civil libertarians protested when courts allowed government to eviscerate civil liberties to & eradicate discrimination.”
In Berkeley, Calif., citizens organized to oppose a housing project for the homeless. After the project was approved, its director sued the opponents for discrimination against the disabled merely because they petitioned government, a constitutional right.
In Chicago, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission sued a janitorial services firm, which employed 95 percent Korean immigrants, for hiring the wrong minorities. The company won its case but went out of business after expending huge sums on legal fees.”
EEOC also took on a Chicago springmaker who “employed around 50 workers, almost all of them Polish or Latino immigrants.” EEOC said the company should have 22 percent African-Americans and ordered it to pay $378,754 in damages after ringing up $400,000 in legal fees.
Minnesota sued a landlord, contending that he “illegally attempted to force his religious prejudices” on an unmarried couple by refusing to rent to them. Meanwhile, the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington (D.C.) sued Washington City Paper for publishing these housing advertisements: “gay female seeking another gay female to share a house,” “housemate needed, no pets, no Republicans,” “women-of-color group home seeking a new member,” and “Jewish cooperative home starting.”
These landlords or tenants simply sought people with whom they shared traits each thought important, but our bureaucratic nannies prefer us to employ furtive means rather than just put our cards on the table.
Each of us discriminates – legally – on a daily basis, so when government leaps from prohibiting certain obviously nefarious discrimination to prohibiting discrimmination which is sensible or harmless, it defies common sense and desecrates the Constitution.
Mark Hillman is the Colorado State Sentator for District 1. He can be reached at (303) 866-6360 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.