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EDITORIAL: Free speech attacks

The First Amendment is enduring increasing fire — and the snipers aren’t only the progressive radicals running over pusillanimous college administrators on the nation’s campuses. They also include a host of the country’s political leaders, both Republican and Democrat.

Reason magazine reports that President Donald Trump is preparing an executive order intended to address accusations that Big Tech interests are removing conservative opinions from their online platforms.

The specifics of the order, which would probably hinge on an interpretation of the Communications Decency Act, remain unknown. But as Reason’s Billy Binion noted this week, the move is likely to give federal bureaucrats the power to punish companies such as Facebook and Twitter if they can’t demonstrate “political neutrality when they moderate content.”

This would create a sort of “Fairness Doctrine” for the internet, Mr. Binion argues, referring to the long-standing federal regulation — eliminated by the Reagan administration — that forced broadcasters to present opposing viewpoints. Rather than promote debate, the rule had a sanitizing effect and led many TV and radio stations to avoid offering opinion content at all.

The Fairness Doctrine was an assault on free speech — as would be a heavy handed effort to prevent private social media companies from overseeing their own content.

Meanwhile, in an effort to rewrite the Bill of Rights for the first time in the nation’s history, the Senate Democratic Caucus — including Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen — has embraced a constitutional amendment to allow the government to regulate political speech.

Senate Democrats claim they’re acting on behalf of democracy by advocating for an amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. But during oral arguments in that case, the solicitor general acknowledged that the law in question would allow the federal government to ban books and political pamphlets.

In other words, Senate Democrats, in seeking to prevent groups and individuals from using their own money to promote or oppose policy positions, would edit the First Amendment to empower bureaucrats to limit debate and to potentially outlaw the showing of certain issue-themed films or the distribution of political publications.

The proposed amendment highlights the dominance of compulsion in leftist politics. The intrusive and activist regulatory state favored by many Democrats is the very sustenance that nourishes the lobbying apparatus they so loathe. But rather than working to ensure the federal government remains confined by constitutional boundaries, thus limited the need for Big Money groups and donors to seek protection, progressives instead prefer to amend the nation’s founding document to actually curtail individual rights.

These are challenging times for free-speech advocates. But to preserve our First Amendment freedoms, they must oppose both the effort by the Trump administration to use the force of government against social media platforms and the crusade by Democrats to revise the Bill of Rights.

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