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EDITORIAL: Aborting free speech

Ousted Ohio politician sues after flip-flopping on life

- The Washington Times - Friday, January 14, 2011

Left-wing attempts to restrict free speech aren't new. Even before the Tucson shooting, a recently defeated Ohio congressman asked government to punish a pro-life group because he didn't like their ads criticizing his voting record. His position is such an offense to freedom that even the liberal American Civil Liberties Union weighed in on behalf of pro-lifers.

The case arises from disputes over Obamacare. Steven L. Driehaus voted for the government takeover of health care as a member of the House of Representatives despite claiming to be pro-life. Influential pro-life groups - including the grassroots Susan B. Anthony List - warned about provisions in the law that could lead to government funding for abortions. When the SBA List announced plans to post billboards in Mr. Driehaus' district saying he "voted for taxpayer-funded abortion," he asked the Ohio Elections Commission to declare the message false and prohibit the advertisements. The commission complied.

The SBA List sued in federal court arguing the Buckeye State law providing for such restraint of speech, with associated penalties, violates the First Amendment. Mr. Driehaus, who had his hat handed to him in the November election, countersued, seeking compensatory and punitive damages for defamation and for "injury in connection with his trade or occupation." How dare the voters reject his voting record. But as the ACLU reminded in a friend of the court brief: "The people have an absolute right to criticize their public officials, the government should not be the arbiter of true or false speech and, in any event, the best answer for bad speech is more speech. ... The First Amendment exists to protect citizens' right to hold and to communicate such different beliefs. ..."

Mr. Driehaus' sour grapes dovetail with post-Tucson initiatives by Rep. Robert Brady, Pennsylvania Democrat, and Rep. Jim Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, who propose outlawing campaign images that can be "perceived" as threatening while trying to re-institute the so-called Fairness Doctrine that controls on-air commentary. Rep. Louise Slaughter, New York Democrat, said the Federal Communications Commission should issue new broadcast restrictions.

The rush to limit free speech is antithetical to the American founding. The effective way to counter an argument you don't like is to put forth a more compelling point of view. That rule applies to politicians who lost their majority and those who frittered away their own seats. Most Americans understand robust debate is less likely to cause violence than to ward it off by providing a constructive outlet for grievances. The ability to criticize and vote down someone like Mr. Driehaus is what keeps society mostly civil.

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