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Craig Parshall, General Counsel

 

Stopping Hate or Stomping Free Speech?

December 9, 2009

When political shrapnel is flying fast and furious, it is sometimes hard to get the “big picture” on what is happening in Washington, particularly from the view in the trenches. But I think we can connect some dots on Capitol Hill on one issue: the censorship of free speech under the guise of stamping out “hate.”

Last Friday I attended a meeting in Washington co-sponsored by the Federal Communications Bar Association. The subject was a petition that had been filed with the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) back in January, just as the new Obama Administration was taking over the reins of power. The petition is asking the FCC to launch a formal investigation into “hate” over the airwaves. The targets in the petition are conspicuous radio conservatives, but it is clear that Christian broadcasters would all be in the cross hairs if the FCC were to take this petition seriously. The petitioners are a coalition spearheaded by the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC), and also includes the United Church of Christ. One of the speakers at last Friday’s meeting was Jessica Gonzalez, an attorney for the petitioners. When asked by the attendees about the end-game of their petition to the FCC, Ms. Gonzalez declined to say that they want to see new anti-hate regulations to control broadcast content. Yet the petition itself would certainly lend itself to that result, citing as it did the FCC’s supposed “public interest” power to eradicate slanted and unfair broadcast characterizations of people or groups. Instead, Ms. Gonzalez cited the need for a national dialogue on what her group perceives as the problem with some conservative commentary, particularly as it deals with the immigration issue.

Aside from the obvious point that the FCC has no business firing-up investigations merely to create a useful public dialogue on an issue, and the even more obvious First Amendment objections to this hate speech petition, what is most revealing is the specific remedy the petitioners’ attorney says they really want: namely, that the federal government should launch a public “education” and “awareness” campaign focusing on the problem with some of the rhetoric contained in conservative broadcasts. I can just envision public school curricula being devised on this subject as an example. Or PSA’s required to be carried on every radio or TV station identifying those opinion-makers who are deemed to be purveyors of “hate"; a whole generation being schooled that certain opinions should be shuffled outside the city gates and treated with universal condemnation. When I wrote recently that this kind of public indoctrination could well be one of the most dangerous consequences of recently passed “hate crimes” legislation, the gay-rights blogs considered me an extremist. But in our constitutional Republic, when the federal government is being asked to create an official orthodoxy of opinion on matters of politics, religion, and social morality in the form of “hate” inquisitions, and then to enforce it upon the citizenry through massive public “education,” who, I might ask, are the real extremists?