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House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, on Thursday introduced the Free Speech Protection Act.
According to a committee press release, the bill would:
“Prohibit executive branch employees and contractors from using their positions to censor and otherwise attack speech protected by the First Amendment. [It] will also impose mandatory severe penalties for those executive branch employees who censor speech.”
The proposed legislation comes on the heels of Thursday’s contentious U.S. House of Representatives hearing of the Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, which was organized to “examine the federal government’s role in censoring Americans,” “Big Tech’s collusion with government agencies to silence speech” and the ongoing Missouri v. Biden lawsuit alleging government censorship.
According to Jordan:
“Censorship is a major threat to freedom today. It is clear that Big Government must be more transparent, and that bureaucrats must be held accountable for censorship.
“The Free Speech Protection Act accomplishes that and gives individuals remedies for censorship to protect vital First Amendment freedoms.”
As part of protecting Americans’ First Amendment rights, the bill would also:
- Mandate frequent publicly accessible reports from the heads of executive branch agencies detailing the communications between an executive branch agency and Big Tech.
- Ensure that federal grant money is not misused to label media organizations as sources of misinformation or disinformation.
- Terminate several programs and authorities that threaten free speech and other constitutionally protected rights.
Section 7 of the draft bill proposes the termination of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Disinformation Governance Board — and bars any similar organization from being formed or funded in the future.
The bill would also require federal grant recipients to certify that funds are not being used to create lists of media outlets labeled as promoting misinformation or disinformation.
According to Paul:
“Americans are free people and we do not take infringements upon our liberties lightly. The time has come for resistance and to reclaim our God-given right to free expression.
“Under my Free Speech Protection Act the government will no longer be able to cloak itself in secrecy to undermine the First Amendment rights of Americans.”
Bill co-sponsor Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.) told Fox News the bill would prevent the government from outsourcing censorship efforts to universities like Stanford and the University of Washington, both of which are defendants in a censorship lawsuit filed in May.
The Free Speech Protection Act that I co-sponsored with @SenRandPaul will make sure people in power can’t censor speech they don’t like.
This is the most important fight of our generation. pic.twitter.com/b588MUDI8A
— Senator Eric Schmitt (@SenEricSchmitt) July 24, 2023
U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty, presiding over the Missouri v. Biden case, wrote in his July 4 ruling that the allegations against the government, if true, represented the “most massive attack against free speech in United States’ history.”
Doughty added, “Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their claim that they have shown irreparable injury sufficient to satisfy the standard for the issuance of a preliminary injunction.”
Weighing in on the proposed bill, the Daily Torch wrote, “This legislation’s far-reaching impact recognizes that the temptation to use the federal government to shout and shut down your political opposition is strong.”
CHD legal roundtable participants appalled at censorship attempts by elected officials
Following the hearing, CHD hosted a legal roundtable on First Amendment rights and the government’s suppression of free speech. Roundtable participants criticized the subcommittee’s attempt to censor a censorship hearing.
During the roundtable, Rick Jaffe, an attorney who works with CHD on censorship-related cases, said:
“I never thought I’d see the day where Democrats would make such a blatant attempt to not only suppress speech but just to lie. The level of ad hominem attacks, I thought was … let’s just call it regrettable.”
Kim Mack Rosenberg, CHD acting general counsel, said it was “really sad and somewhat painful to watch these very uncivil attacks on Mr. Kennedy and on others,” adding that through such attacks, the First Amendment “got lost … by a number of the committee members.”
The roundtable addressed the July 4 ruling in Missouri v. Biden and CHD’s involvement in two other censorship lawsuits: a lawsuit against Facebook in the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and an antitrust lawsuit CHD filed against the Trusted News Initiative, a consortium of legacy media companies.
Participants also discussed the possibility of Congress passing an anti-censorship law, with attorney Jed Rubenfeld calling for “a federal statute that stops the large social media companies from discriminating on the basis of political opinion.”
According to Rubenfeld, Florida and Texas recently passed state laws with such provisions. And while it’s unclear whether states possess such authority, Rubenfeld said, “The federal government certainly would” — via an amendment to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives internet providers legal protections for hosting, moderating and removing most user content.
Such legislation could work in tandem with proposals like the Free Speech Protection Act.