- - Thursday, May 1, 2014

Ronald Reagan reminded us of the need to always fight for, protect and defend our freedoms, because freedom is never “more than one generation away from extinction.” Liberty is not the sort of thing lost all at once; it disappears bit by bit through proposals like those recently advanced by Sen. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, New York Democrat.

They propose to have the National Telecommunications and Information Administration watch television, listen to radio and surf the Internet on a scavenger hunt for speech that they say encourages “hate crimes.”

The Hate Crime Reporting Act of 2014 represents the latest effort to deputize the federal government as the online speech police. “It is important,” says Mr. Jeffries, “to comprehensively evaluate the scope of criminal and hateful activity on the Internet that occurs outside of the zone of First Amendment protection.”

What type of speech goes beyond the reach of the First Amendment? There is no doubt the Internet has its dark corners. The same freedom that allows us to explore new ideas, criticize our government and post cat pictures also serves as a platform for misguided individuals to spew invective and racism. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of liberty.

What the congressional Democrats are targeting, however, isn’t virtual Ku Klux Klan rallies. The left slaps the “hate speech” label on just about anything with which it disagrees. They aim to shut down conservative voices.

The National Organization for Women has repeatedly accused popular talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh of promoting hate speech. Feminists have demanded that the Federal Communications Commission pull the licenses of the radio stations airing his nationally syndicated program. “It’s time for the public to take back our broadcast resources,” wrote Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem in a joint op-ed essay for CNN. “Limbaugh has had decades to fix his show. Now it’s up to us.”

While Mr. Markey’s legislation only creates a study of the issue, the idea behind it is to empower the government to determine what speech is acceptable and to “fix” the speech that is objectionable. Many leftists, as we have seen, have a liberal interpretation of what’s objectionable.

Special-interest groups, from the recording industry to Las Vegas casinos, have all pushed their own legislation to regulate the Internet to gain a market advantage for their products and services. Most, thankfully, have been defeated.

The freedom to express our thoughts and ideas on the Internet is far too valuable to let go without a fight. Mr. Markey’s bill isn’t likely to go anywhere this session, but it shows the precarious state of our First Amendment freedoms that he introduced it in the first place.