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EDITORIAL: Progressives keep coming after the First Amendment

Progressives in recent years have been meticulously laying the groundwork to neuter the First Amendment by arguing that “offensive” or “hateful” speech incites violence and can even trigger physical ailments. Witness the hysterical reaction to Elon Musk’s new Twitter policies, which critics have argued will “kill people.”

Thankfully, the courts have been reluctant to sacrifice free speech protections at the altar of left-wing dogma. But that doesn’t mean Democrats have cooled their censorial impulses. Consider what’s happening in New York state.

In June, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation that requires websites and blogs to provide mechanisms for reporting “hateful conduct” and demands they publish policies to “respond and address” complaints about such. Failure to comply could lead to fines of up to $1,000 per day

The law offers an expansive definition of “hateful conduct,” which includes using “a social media network to vilify, humiliate or incite violence against a group or a class of persons on the basis of race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”

Given the thin-skinned nature of public discourse these days, it’s not hard to see how the words “vilify” and “humiliate” are vague enough to provide cover to suppress even innocuous comments. And the goal of the law is clear: to intimidate websites into self-censoring content to comply with the state’s definition of acceptable speech. This is dangerous and unconstitutional.

Last week, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression — what happened to the ACLU’s commitment to the Bill of Rights? — filed a lawsuit challenging the New York law. “The government can’t burden online expression protected by the Constitution,” the group’s attorney said, “whether it’s doing it in the name of combating hate or any other sentiment.”

Among those involved in the lawsuit is Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor, First Amendment expert and prominent blogger. “Politicians can’t conscript private individuals into a state-mandated, viewpoint-based complaint system, especially for protected speech,” Mr. Volokh argued in a Wall Street Journal commentary.

Even more to the point, Mr. Volokh told Reason magazine, “The First Amendment protects speech regardless of the viewpoint that it expresses, and the reason why it protects the speech that each of us values is precisely that it doesn’t let the government say ‘certain kinds of viewpoints can be suppressed.’ So, if you give the government the power to suppress some viewpoints, it’ll end up having the power to suppress other viewpoints, including viewpoints that you might like.”

That’s something short-sighted leftist censors fail to grasp. For the sake of the Bill of Rights, let’s hope the courts set them straight.

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