Who really opposes free speech?

By John Hood | May 29, 2014

RALEIGH — In a free society, the right to express one’s political views without governmental restraint or reprisal ought to be sacrosanct. Unfortunately, it isn’t. Some politicians and activists seem to believe they have the right not just to express their views but also to limit the right of others to do the same.

In today’s political environment, these enemies of free speech reside primarily on the Left side of the ideological spectrum. While their position lacks intellectual rigor or consistency, it is frequently and loudly asserted with an admittedly impressive amount of unmitigated gall.

Contrast these two examples: the North Carolina legislature’s response to liberal and progressive critics vs. the United States Senate’s response to conservative and libertarian critics.

Here in North Carolina, a rightward turn in the 2010 and 2012 cycles elected a Republican governor and General Assembly. These officials, in turn, followed through on their longtime party platform to reform and reduce state taxes, alleviate the regulatory burden on business, broaden parental choice and competition in education, and enact other conservative policies.

Last year, a collection of left-wing groups began sponsoring weekly protests at the Legislative Building in Raleigh. The so-called Moral Monday movement grew to encompass thousands of activists from across the state and beyond. It attracted tremendous media attention. It also resulted in several hundred arrests as many protestors ignored the standing rules of the General Assembly and attempted to disrupt the normal operation of North Carolina state government.

But some of the arrests were questionable, involving either innocent bystanders, ambiguous regulations, or both. Just before the 2014 session convened, the Legislative Services Commission released a revised set of rules. Although Moral Monday activists and like-minded editorialists claim the revision was some kind of tyrannical imposition, the truth is quite different. The new rules make it clear that the Legislative Building is open to all to say anything they like to anyone they like — as long as their actions are consistent with the equal rights of others to do the same, and of elected officials to perform their duties.

That means that lobbying lawmakers is perfectly fine but shouting them down is not. It means that assembling to protest legislative action is perfectly fine — at the south entrance of the Legislative Building if your crowd will fit that space, or on the Halifax Mall at the north entrance if you expect more than 200 people — but that assembling to block access to legislative chambers or offices is not.

A limitation of free speech? Baloney. Similar rules are in place at virtually every other deliberative body in the United States, including Congress. Neither U.S. House Speaker John Boehner nor U.S. Senate leader Harry Reid would dream of allowing protestors to obstruct or shout down congressional proceedings.

Speaking of Reid, however, there is a very real threat to free speech. But it has nothing to do with reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on the use of government property for protests. The real threat comes from the abuse of governmental power to block the transmission of alternative ideas and punish those who transmit them.

Reid, other Washington Democrats, and liberal activists here in North Carolina have long sought to limit First Amendment protections to corporations they like, such as The New York Times and Harvard University, while denying First Amendment protections to corporations they dislike, such as Koch Industries or the Heritage Foundation. Some have even been honest enough to grant that their proposed restrictions on independent campaign expenditures would require a rewrite of the First Amendment itself.

In light of the widely reported efforts of Reid’s Democratic colleagues to sic the IRS on conservative groups they dislike, the only reasonable conclusion here is that they believe freedom of speech belongs only to those who express the “proper” views, not to every individual or group of individuals who may wish to exercise it.

Those who assert that liberals revere free speech more than conservatives do are making a phony claim. I’ll still defend their right to make it, however.


Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.

Comments (6)
Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | May 30, 2014 08:58




Posted by: Ron Rookstool | May 30, 2014 09:58

Why am I not surprised by this article? The Moral Monday movement in NC has hit the papers and news shows nationally. This certainly brings to the forefront, nationally,  what is happening in NC.  SourceWatch.Org says " The John Locke Foundation receives around 80 percent of its funding from Art Pope, who controls the institute's agenda from its board of directors. It received over $2.5 million from the Pope family foundation in fiscal years 2010-2011.". So I take much of what this foundation publishes with a grain of salt. The NC legislatures have made Draconian changes that have adversely impacted NC and should be exposed publicly. I hope the NC voters are not fooled by this propaganda.

Posted by: Scott Lilly | May 30, 2014 10:22

...And "sourcewatch.org" is owned by the Center for Media and Democracy -- a self-proclaimed progressive organization with funding that traces back to George Soros.  What's the point of calling out the funding?  Is there an inaccuracy in the article that makes the opinion invalid?  The two previous commenters do not present any supporting evidence for an opposing position and could therefore be considered purely an "emotional response".

Posted by: John C Sanderson | May 30, 2014 12:21

It is good for everyone to be more aware of the sources of the information they rely upon to make personal decisions. I remember, for example, a study years ago that found that the health benefits of consuming chocolate were far greater than any health risks created by eating chocolate. I found that information comforting until I learned that the study was sponsored by Hershey Chocolate. The sponsorship alone did not make the findings of the study invalid, but that awareness certainly made me a little less eager to blindly jump on the chocolate bandwagon and eat Hershey Kisses by the handful.


With that said, some information is more verifiable than other information. For example, the "$2.5 million from the Pope family foundation" figure cited by NC SourceWatch is objectively verifiable, regardless of the ideological leanings of the source citing it. On the other hand, some information relies upon faith in the accuracy and honesty of the source. For example, Mr. Hood states in his piece:

"Although Moral Monday activists and like-minded editorialists claim the revision was some kind of tyrannical imposition, the TRUTH [emphasis added] is quite different."

This is an example of information that is not objectively or statistically verifiable. It is information about one version of "the truth" - and the supposed untruths (aka: lies) being presented by others - that is nothing more than an opinion based upon the writer's beliefs and ideological leanings (and perhaps his vested interests). When presented with opinionated information like this it is very important for the "consumers" to be aware of the possible reasons why a source of information may be pushing a particular version of "the truth" over an equally unverifiable, and quite different, version of "the truth."

So, the validity or invalidity of the "opinion" presented by Mr. Hood is not in question. An opinion is an opinion (emotional response or not), but when one speaks about "the truth" it is wise for people to learn as much as possible about who and where that "truth" is coming from.

Posted by: Scott Lilly | May 30, 2014 13:08

Mr. Sanderson, I might give you the "debate award" of the year!  Mr. Hood's opinion seems well-founded in evidence and interpretation of it.  Mr. Hood gave examples how a "tyrannical imposition" has not occurred.  For one to call Mr. Hood a liar, one would have to provide evidence that shows an untruth being told.  There being none, it stands to reason Mr. Hood's opinion is well-founded and justified.


What I would find interesting is the facts and justification of an opposing opinion.  If the argument is that Moral Mondays wants to claim the revised set of rules are a "tyrannical imposition" -- what's missing is the evidence that supports that opinion.


Somebody needs to break the cycle of "my side" vs. "their side" without performing the work of analyzing the evidence.  Let us use this forum to do such things.  :-)


I accept your point, Mr. Sanderson, that one should "consider the source".  But I would counter that simply discounting a source without examination of the evidence would not be fair.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Jun 09, 2014 10:06

         This is a lie:


"In light of the widely reported efforts of Reid’s Democratic colleagues to sic the IRS on conservative groups they dislike, the only reasonable conclusion here is that they believe freedom of speech belongs only to those who express the “proper” views, not to every individual or group of individuals who may wish to exercise it."

                 As has been quite well documented the IRS "targeted" 501C applications. Contrary to right-wing nut-job claims it was even-handed with only a religious group headed by Nuns fined. No action was taken against any other applicant. To claim only right-wing nut-jobs were "targeted" is a proven lie.



If you wish to comment, please login.