Editorial: Groups should not be forced to reveal donors

The uberliberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes Nevada, recently struck another blow against free speech, saying the state of California may force non-profits to reveal their donors.

According to The Wall Street Journal, in 2016 a federal judge ruled that the Americans for Prosperity Foundation did not have to give its donor list to the California attorney general’s office. 

Judge Manuel Real agreed with the foundation’s lawyers that the state had no legitimate law-enforcement interest in obtaining the names. He also said that the attorney general’s failure to keep donor names confidential subjected donors to a risk of harassment and retaliation.

The 9th Circuit panel shrugged this off and found the attorney general had a “strong interest” in obtaining donor names in order to investigate potential fraud.

This is significant for Nevada because there is a law on the books here that says any group that engages in “express advocacy” in elections must register with the Secretary of State and report donors and expenditures. 

In 2013 a Carson City judge fined a Virginia-based group called Alliance for America’s Future (AAF) more than $100,000 for airing television commercials praising Brian Sandoval’s conservatism during the gubernatorial campaign of 2010. Though the group argued the law was unconstitutional under the First Amendment, the judge found in the penumbra of the Constitution a whole new right.

He wrote, “No amount of civil penalties can redress the injury to Nevada voters caused by refusal to timely provide them with the information to which they are entitled, thus there is no adequate remedy at law.” 

He ruled the voters are entitled to the names of donors who sponsored the message, which would have been a surprise to James Madison, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Paine, all of whom wrote anonymously. 

In 2014 AAF reached a settlement with Secretary of State Ross Miller before the case reached the state Supreme Court. The group paid a $40,000 fine, registered as a political action committee and filed contribution and expenditure reports. 

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC let stand the requirement under McCain-Feingold that donors be revealed, Justice Clarence Thomas made a compelling argument that it is clearly an abridgment of free speech  rights to force people to surrender their right to anonymously express their views about elections, candidates and issues with donations to like-minded groups.

Thomas’ dissent concluded that such laws had spawned a cottage industry that uses forcibly disclosed donor information to intimidate, retaliate, threaten and boycott individuals and businesses with whom they disagree. 

Thomas wrote, “The disclosure, disclaimer, and reporting requirements in (the law) are also unconstitutional. … Congress may not abridge the ‘right to anonymous speech’ based on the ‘simple interest in providing voters with additional relevant information …’”

In the recent California case one of the groups siding with the foundation was the NAACP. In 1958 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state of Alabama could not force the NAACP to reveal its donors, citing the potential for intimidation and violence against donors. 

But the 9th Circuit panel dismissed this concern. Though the panel admitted, “The Foundation’s evidence undeniably shows that some individuals publicly associated with the Foundation have been subjected to threats, harassment or economic reprisals,” it shrugged this off by concluding, “Such harassment, however, is not a foregone conclusion.” 

What if the threats had been to the judiciary?

Americans for Prosperity has said it will seek a rehearing before the full 9th Circuit, and appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if that fails. By all means appeal, and we urge the Nevada attorney general to file a friend of the court brief in support.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco (Getty Images via WSJ)

Newspaper column: Too many willing to forgo First Amendment rights

Here is proof positive that ignorance is hazardous to freedom.

The Freedom Forum’s 2018 First Amendment survey, conducted in May and June, asked 1,009 Americans to name the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. Only one person could name all five. One out of more than 1,000.

But perhaps the most telling aspect of the survey was when knowledge of the First Amendment was compared to a willingness to have the government censor social media online. Fully 63 percent of those who could name not a single First Amendment right agreed the government should censor speech, while 87 percent of those who could name four freedoms disagreed.

The more rights one could name, the more those people balked at government censorship. The curve of ignorance runs counter to the curve of freedom.

Knowledge is power and ignorance is hazardous.

Even more scary is the fact that ignorance is rampant. Fully 76 percent of those surveyed could name none or only one First Amendment right — meaning that if such a censorship scheme were put to a vote it just might win.

As for political party affiliation, 54 percent of Democrats agreed with government censorship compared with 47 percent of Republicans.

For the record, the First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

We’ve been writing about this annual survey with considerable angst for two decades and things have gone downhill since. In 1997, the first year of the survey, 2 percent of those questioned could name all five rights.

Somewhat ironically, considering the considerable willingness to renege on it, the one First Amendment right a simple majority, 56 percent, could name was freedom of speech. Only 15 percent could recall freedom of religion. A mere 13 percent could think of freedom of the press, while right of assembly garnered only 12 percent and right of petition a paltry 2 percent. Fully 9 percent thought the Second Amendment right to bear arms was in the First.

Another disturbing finding in the survey is the willingness of Americans to silence someone merely because someone might be offended. When asked whether public universities should be able to retract invitations to controversial speakers if their remarks would offend some groups or even individuals, 42 percent agreed. If the appearance might provoke protests, 51 percent would withdraw the invitation. And if it might incite violence, 70 would cancel — the hooligan’s veto.

“It’s a little disquieting that 4 in 10 believe that public universities should be able to cancel a speaker if he or she might offend ‘individuals.’ In these polarized times, it’s difficult to conceive of anyone speaking on any topic without offending someone,” commented Ken Paulson, president of the Freedom Forum Institute’s First Amendment Center and dean of the College of Media and Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University.

“That finding — along with majority support for cancelling speakers if a protest is likely — suggests there is significant public support for keeping controversial ideas off college campuses,” Paulson continues. “This begs the question: If a public institution dedicated to the sharing of knowledge and ideas is the wrong place for controversial thoughts, what is the appropriate venue?”

On a more positive note, 74 percent of survey respondents agreed that it is important that the news media act as a watchdog on the government, up from only 68 percent in 2017.

David L. Hudson, Jr. — author, co-author or co-editor of more than 40 books, including “First Amendment: Freedom of Speech” — noted that politicians have long extolled and excoriated the role of the press.

Though President Obama praised “a tough and vibrant media,” President Trump has called some members of the press “enemies of the people” and purveyors of “fake news.”

“The most encouraging part of the 2018 State of the First Amendment survey is the public’s embrace of the ideal of the media serving as the watchdog of a free society,” Hudson writes. “The American public recognizes the essential importance of a vibrant and free press to serve the interests of the public as a check against government.”

But for how long?

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Freedom is threatened by rampant and abject ignorance

Here is proof positive that ignorance is hazardous to freedom.

The Freedom Forum’s 2018 First Amendment survey in May and June asked 1,009 Americans to name the five freedoms protected by the First Amendment — only one person could name all five. One out of more than 1,000.

But perhaps the most telling aspect of the survey was when knowledge of the First Amendment was compared to a willingness to have the government censor social media online. Fully 63 percent of those who could name not a single freedom agreed the government should censor speech, while 87 percent of those who could name four freedoms disagreed. The curve of ignorance runs counter to the curve of freedom. Knowledge is power and ignorance is hazardous.

This chart shows the just how few are those who would protect our rights to free speech:

That is dangerously close to a majority willing to let government do what the First Amendment says it may not.

For the record, the First Amendment states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

I been writing about this annual survey with considerable angst since at least 2000, though most of the links have long since disappeared into the ether.

 

 

Some news folks have no sense of history

Merchandise pulled at Newseum (Newseum pix via Ad Age)

Proprietors of the Newseum in Washington could use a history lesson and a sense of humor.

Over the weekend the Newseum, which is dedicated to commemorating a free press and the First Amendment, pulled merchandise off the shelves that included T-shirts that proclaimed “You Are Very Fake News” and “Alternative Fact — a false statement delivered with deliberate intent to mislead or deceive,” as well as caps that read “Make America Great Again.”

“We made a mistake and we apologize,” Sonya Gavankar, director of public relations for the journalism museum, wrote in a statement emailed to Ad Age. “A free press is an essential part of our democracy and journalists are not the enemy of the people.”

A couple of days earlier, Gavankar had sent an email to Ad Age saying, “As a nonpartisan organization people with differing viewpoints feel comfortable visiting the Newseum, and one of our greatest strengths is that we’re champions not only of a free press, but also of free speech.”

But Twitterdom lit up with profanity-laced criticism, such as: “This is a very bad idea @Newseum — you exist to honor, examine and protect the news media, not embrace the bywords by which others seek to undermine it.” The Newseum caved.

Perhaps someone should explain the term “reappropriation” to those at the Newseum and on Twitter.

That’s when someone calls you a pejorative name, you embrace it. The Brits called Americans Yankees, a term used by the British to refer to Dutch pirates, but Americans proudly adopted it. When people called Southerners red necks, they embraced the term. When the Society of Friends were dubbed Quakers, they latched onto it. Likewise terms like Cavalier, Tory, Whig, Paddy and Methodist.

Reappropriation is a time-honored method of turning the tables on those who taunt you.

Lighten up already. Laugh at those who denigrate you by laughing at yourself.

 

 

Newspaper column: Free speech issues ‘on the ballot’ in Nevada

The right to free speech includes the right to not be compelled to speak.

That includes not being required to pay dues to a union whose political views might be different from yours, not being required to advertise abortion availability at your faith-based pregnancy counseling service, not being required to use your cake baking talent to create a special cake or your flower arranging expertise for a gay wedding.

All of these have come down from a closely divided U.S. Supreme Court in the closing days of this year’s court calendar.

This past week, the court ruled that public employees could not to be forced to pay dues to unions with which they might not agree.

“The First Amendment, made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, forbids abridgment of the freedom of speech,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito in the 5-4 opinion. “We have held time and again that freedom of speech ‘includes both the right to speak freely and the right to refrain from speaking at all.’”

Public employee unions that advocate higher wages that require higher taxes are intrinsically political.

Just the day before the court ruled, again 5-4, that a California law that required pro-life, religious-oriented unlicensed pregnancy centers to place extensive disclaimers in their ads and on billboards telling people about abortion services was an unconstitutional impingement on free speech.

“Here, for example, licensed clinics must provide a government-drafted script about the availability of state-sponsored services, as well as contact information for how to obtain them” wrote Justice Clarence Thomas in the majority opinion. “One of those services is abortion — the very practice that petitioners are devoted to opposing. By requiring petitioners to inform women how they can obtain state-subsidized abortions — at the same time petitioners try to dissuade women from choosing that option — the licensed notice plainly ‘alters the content’ of petitioners’ speech.”

A little more than a week earlier in a 7-2 ruling the court held Colorado could not force cake shop owner to make a special cake for a gay wedding.

Shortly thereafter. the court remanded a Washington case involving a florist who declined to arrange flowers for a gay wedding, citing the Colorado ruling.

The state of Nevada, under the direction of Attorney General Adam Laxalt, had joined in both the public employee union case and the California abortion law case on the winning side.

Laxalt’s office put out a press release about the California law ruling stating: “The ruling, which rests exclusively on free speech grounds, does not affect abortion providers; it neither requires them to change their practices nor infringes on their ability to provide abortions. The Supreme Court correctly held that compelling private organizations to promote the government’s preferred message under those circumstances is inconsistent with the First Amendment. This is an important holding ensuring that the government cannot simply force private speakers with whom it disagrees to also promote the government’s preferred message, especially when there are other ways for the government to promote its own message without interfering with private speech.”

Republican Laxalt’s Democratic opponent for governor in November, Steve Sisolak, put out a statement reported by The Nevada Independent saying, “I believe that women deserve access to all of their options when it comes to their reproductive health care. I still have concerns over the lack of information given by these crisis pregnancy centers and the harm it can cause.”

Sisolak continued, “As governor, I will fight to protect a woman’s constitutional reproductive rights and her consistent access to comprehensive care. Adam Laxalt has shown repeatedly that he will pursue an anti-choice agenda that will roll back the clock on women’s rights and bring Nevada down a dangerous path.”

This has nothing to do with abortion rights and only to do with speech rights.

This point was lost on Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen who is running for Republican Dean Heller’s Senate seat. She sent out an email saying, “Deceiving women about their health care options is an attack on women’s fundamental reproductive freedom, and I will continue to stand against this Administration’s attacks on women’s rights and access to health care. Nevadans support a woman’s right to make these personal decisions.”

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Supreme Court hears free speech case

Free speech includes the right to be silent

The right to free speech includes the right to not be compelled to speak.

That includes not being required to pay dues to a union whose political view might be different from yours, not being required to advertise abortion availability at your faith-based pregnancy counseling service, not being required to use your cake baking talent to create a special cake or your flowing arranging expertise for a gay wedding.

All of these have come down from a closely divided U.S. Supreme Court in a matter of days.

Today the court ruled that public employees could not to be forced to pay dues to unions with which they might not agree. Justice Samuel Alito writes in the 5-4 opinion:

The First Amendment, made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, forbids abridgment of the freedom of speech. We have held time and again that freedom of speech “includes both the right to speak freely and the right to refrain from speaking at all.” … The right to eschew association for expressive purposes is likewise protected. … (“Freedom of association … plainly presupposes a free­dom not to associate”) … (“[F]orced associations that burden protected speech are impermissible”). As Justice Jackson memorably put it: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constella­tion, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

Just the day before the court ruled, again 5-4, that a California law that required pro-life, religious-oriented unlicensed pregnancy centers to place extensive disclaimers in large fonts and in as many as 13 languages in their ads and on billboards telling people about abortion services was an unconstitutional impingement on free speech. The ruling overturned a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the majority opinion:

Here, for example, licensed clinics must provide a government-drafted script about the availability of state-sponsored services, as well as contact information for how to obtain them. One of those services is abortion — the very practice that petitioners are devoted to opposing. By requiring petitioners to inform women how they can obtain state-subsidized abortions — at the same time petitioners try to dissuade women from choosing that option — the licensed notice plainly “alters the content” of petitioners’ speech.

A little more than a week ago in a 7-2 ruling the court held the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was inconsistent in its rulings relating to issues of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion and free speech.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that on at least three occasions the state Civil Rights Commission held that bakers who refused to create cakes with images that conveyed disapproval of same-sex marriage did so lawfully.

“The treatment of the conscience-based objections at issue in these three cases contrasts with the Commission’s treatment of Phillips’ objection,” Kennedy wrote. “The Commission ruled against (Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack) Phillips in part on the theory that any message the requested wedding cake would carry would be attributed to the customer, not to the baker. Yet the Division did not address this point in any of the other cases with respect to the cakes depicting anti-gay marriage symbolism.”
Shortly thereafter the court remanded a Washington case involving a florist who declined to arrange flowers for a gay wedding, citing the Colorado ruling.
The state of Nevada, under the direction of Attorney Adam Laxalt, had joined in both the public employee union case and the California abortion law case on the winning side.
Laxalt’s office put out a press release about the California law ruling stating: “The ruling, which rests exclusively on free speech grounds, does not affect abortion providers; it neither requires them to change their practices nor infringes on their ability to provide abortions. The Supreme Court correctly held that compelling private organizations to promote the government’s preferred message under those circumstances is inconsistent with the First Amendment. This is an important holding ensuring that the government cannot simply force private speakers with whom it disagrees to also promote the government’s preferred message, especially when there are other ways for the government to promote its own message without interfering with private speech.”

Republican Laxalt’s Democratic opponent for governor in November, Steve Sisolak, put out a statement reported by The Nevada Independent saying, “I believe that women deserve access to all of their options when it comes to their reproductive health care. I still have concerns over the lack of information given by these crisis pregnancy centers and the harm it can cause.”Sisolak continued, “As governor, I will fight to protect a woman’s constitutional reproductive rights and her consistent access to comprehensive care. Adam Laxalt has shown repeatedly that he will pursue an anti-choice agenda that will roll back the clock on women’s rights and bring Nevada down a dangerous path.”

This has nothing to do with abortion rights and only to do with speech rights.

This point was lost on Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen who is running for Republican Dean Heller’s Senate seat. She sent out an email saying, “Deceiving women about their health care options is an attack on women’s fundamental reproductive freedom, and I will continue to stand against this Administration’s attacks on women’s rights and access to health care. Nevadans support a woman’s right to make these personal decisions.”

Lame-duck Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen sent an email saying, “It is disappointing that today’s Supreme Court decision will allow unlicensed facilities to continue misleading women about the health care services they provide. No woman seeking accurate information about her health care options should be lied to, shamed, or denied access to basic medical care. This ruling is a huge setback in our nation’s fight to protect and advance women’s rights and will make it harder for women to access the health care services they need. We must continue fighting to ensure that every woman has the right to make her own health choices and has access to the full range of options.”

Laxalt’s political campaign sent out an email crowing about the two most recent court ruling and rubbing Sisolak’s nose in it:

The Supreme Court has reaffirmed that the government cannot force Nevadans to advocate political positions against their beliefs. We know Steve Sisolak disagrees. Steve said it was “shameful” when Adam visited a Nevada pregnancy care center, and he favors zero restrictions on abortion — a position to the left of most Nevada Democrats. He is benefiting from the government union in this case, AFSCME, that is running over a million dollars in attack ads against Adam right now — attack ads that PolitiFact has called “false.”

These were great victories for free speech. Adam protected pregnancy care centers from a radical California law that would have forced these pro-life centers that offer care for pregnant women to advocate for policies they disagree with. Adam protected workers from being forced to give up their wages to a government union that pays for political lobbying and advertising that they may disagree with.

Steve Sisolak’s fringe agenda is being exposed. This is a great week for freedom of speech in Nevada, and a terrible week for Steve Sisolak’s radical political machine.

Anti-abortion activists celebrated outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday. (Reuters pix via NYTimes)

 

Newspaper column: High court should stand firmly for free speech

Jack Phillips decorates a cake. (Reuters pix via WaPo)

It has long been agreed that the First Amendment right to free speech includes the right to not be compelled to speak, but this past week the U.S. Supreme Court appeared to skirt this simple premise, though it ruled in favor of a Colorado cake baker who refused in 2012 to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple for a different reason.

The court’s 7-2 ruling in favor of Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., instead hinged on the fact the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was inconsistent in its rulings relating to issues of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that on at least three occasions the state Civil Rights Commission held that bakers who refused to create cakes with images that conveyed disapproval of same-sex marriage did so lawfully.

“The treatment of the conscience-based objections at issue in these three cases contrasts with the Commission’s treatment of Phillips’ objection,” Kennedy wrote. “The Commission ruled against Phillips in part on the theory that any message the requested wedding cake would carry would be attributed to the customer, not to the baker. Yet the Division did not address this point in any of the other cases with respect to the cakes depicting anti-gay marriage symbolism.”

Kennedy added that the commission’s disparate treatment of Phillips violated the state’s duty under the First Amendment not to base laws or regulations on hostility to a religion or religious viewpoint.

“The Free Exercise Clause bars even ‘subtle departures from neutrality’ on matters of religion. … Here, that means the Commission was obliged under the Free Exercise Clause to proceed in a manner neutral toward and tolerant of Phillips’ religious beliefs,” Kennedy said.

As usual, Justice Clarence Thomas countenanced no tolerance for such nuanced, too-narrow rulings and tackled the matter head on in a concurrence that was joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch. Thomas said Phillips rightly prevailed on his free exercise claim, but the court failed to address his free speech claim.

Thomas wrote that the appellate court rationalized that Phillips was defying Colorado’s public-accommodations law and not acting as a speaker. “This reasoning flouts bedrock prin¬ciples of our free-speech jurisprudence and would justify virtually any law that compels individuals to speak,” he concluded.

Thomas said public-accommodation laws may regulate conduct, but not expression of ideas, citing a case in which the high court ruled unanimously that the sponsor of a St. Patrick’s Day parade could not be forced to include a group of gay, lesbian, and bisexual Irish-Americans, because that violated the sponsor’s right to free speech.

“While this Court acknowledged that the unit’s exclusion might have been ‘misguided, or even hurtful” … it rejected the notion that governments can mandate ‘thoughts and statements acceptable to some groups or, indeed, all people’ as the ‘antithesis’ of free speech …” Thomas explained.

He further noted that the court has held that communication of ideas can be conveyed by symbolism as well as words — such as nude dancing, burning the American flag, flying a flag upside-down, wearing a military uniform, wear¬ing a black armband, conducting a silent sit-in, refusing to salute the flag and flying a plain red flag.

Thomas said that the court’s previous ruling that the Constitution protects the right to same-sex marriage does not mean those who disagree are not entitled to express that opinion.

“Because the Court’s decision vindicates Phillips’ right to free exercise, it seems that religious liberty has lived to fight another day,” Justice Thomas concluded. “But, in future cases, the freedom of speech could be essential to preventing (the right to same-sex marriage) from being used to ‘stamp out every vestige of dissent’ and ‘vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.’”

There are cases waiting in the wings that might afford an opportunity to fully recognize freedom of speech when it comes to whether a business may be compelled to offer its services for same-sex weddings — these include a florist in Washington state, a web designer in Colorado and a calligrapher in Arizona.

Hopefully, the court will be more forthright and specific in favor of free speech in on of those or some other case.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.