New York Cracks Down on Free Speech . . . in the Name of Free Speech

By: Charlotte Whelan

Why is New York cracking down on political speech?”—a question we’d all like answered.

The New York Daily News reports the most recent step New York has taken to limit freedom. Ryan Tucker writes:

“Our country benefits when society is defined by respect and tolerance for different views, a free exchange of ideas, and robust debate and dialogue. Unfortunately, New York lawmakers have a different opinion. This week, Gov. Cuomo signed legislation codifying federal interpretation of the Johnson Amendment into New York law, a law that was born from one politician’s quest for political gain.”

The Johnson amendment, named for Lyndon B. Johnson, who introduced the legislation in 1954, prohibits all tax-exempt non-profit organizations from endorsing political candidates. While this amendment is crafted to prevent partisan pressuring of these non-profits, New York has now embraced a law which will censor free speech.

Cuomo defends the legislation as an attempt to reinforce the amendment against any potential weakening in the future but the reality is that the vague language of legislation will allow the government to police the free speech of these organizations.

Tucker puts it this way:

“It means whatever the government wants it to mean. And it depends on who is in office.  Ambiguity in the law gives government officials the power to favor speech they like and censor speech they don’t. This risk of uneven enforcement is why the Constitution prohibits such restrictions.”

The First Amendment was adopted for the purpose of protecting political free speech. Allowing such control by the government is unacceptable and unconstitutional. In places such as New York City, where the liberal Left dominates the political scene, conservative non-profits have reason for concern. They may be looking at challenges to their tax-exempt status.

But this isn’t just an attack on conservatives, it’s an attack on the ability of any non-profit, regardless of their political leanings, to speak freely if the current politicians do not align ideologically on the issues they address.

This means that “in the minds of New York lawmakers, a group can only speak freely if it pays the government extra for the privilege of doing so.”

The irony is that Cuomo defends this new legislation by saying that it will “further protect our democracy from unjustified interferences.”

Can someone explain to me how censoring speech will protect our democracy?

Regardless of who is doing the censoring, this is a dangerous precedent.  Free speech has been under attack in the last few years and the campaign is only gaining strength.

For example, universities regularly restrict free speech to appease their liberal students and administrators, despite the financial burden of lawsuits brought by some censored students, chilling speech in the name of inclusion and safe-spaces. (For more, read the recent IWF Policy Focus here).

Even Facebook is recently under fire for defending free speech on its platform, as liberal presidential candidates and lawmakers alike turn on the social media giant.

This new legislation will only provide further interference of democracy in New York.

Tucker closes with an ominous prediction:

“Government officials—sometimes of one persuasion and sometimes another, depending on the timing of political winds—will interfere. And it will interfere with one of our most precious of freedoms. And for those who dare to exercise that freedom, the government will decide who has crossed the line and who hasn’t. The state is your new speech police.  The answer here is simple. We need more speech, not less.”

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