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As her first order of business, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rolled out a resolution that should alarm all Americans. The fact it doesn’t seem to bother a wide swath of citizens is concerning on several levels.

H.R. 1, which the Democrat-controlled U.S. House passed easily earlier this month, sounds benign enough in its mission to revamp elections and campaign finance, but a closer read highlights real threats to the First Amendment. 

The resolution, misleadingly dubbed “For the People Act of 2019,” would "regulate political speech on the internet, violate the privacy of advocacy groups and their supporters, and compel speakers to include lengthy government-mandated messages in their communications,” according to analysis by the Institute for Free Speech. Among other dangerous provisions, H.R. 1 would do the following, as noted by the Institute:

  • “Unconstitutionally regulate speech that mentions a federal candidate or elected official at any time under a severely vague, subjective, and broad standard that asks whether the speech ‘promotes,’ ‘attacks,’ ‘supports,’ or ‘opposes’ the candidate or official.” 
  • “Compel groups to file so-called ‘campaign-related disbursement’ reports with the Federal Election Commission declaring that their ads are either ‘in support of or in opposition’ to the elected official mentioned, even if their ads do neither.”
  • “Expand the universe of regulated online political speech beyond paid advertising to include, apparently, communications on groups’ or individuals’ own websites and e-mail messages.”

The ACLU has raised concerns about aspects of the measure that could chill speech, arguing it would “have the effect of harming our public discourse by silencing necessary voices that would otherwise speak out about the public issues of the day.” 

Democrats are now pushing for the Senate to take up the resolution, but that’s not going to happen under GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But should the Senate flip in 2020, watch out. 

These flippant views of free speech by the left are echoed frequently on U.S. university campuses. A growing percentage of young people have incorrect views of the First Amendment and what is protected speech. And misguided college policies that create “free speech zones” and coddle certain groups of students aren’t teaching the next generation what the robust discussion of ideas sounds like.

The censorship that takes place on many campuses — including at some of Michigan’s most prominent institutions — is why President Donald Trump this month issued an executive order aimed at making sure universities that receive federal research and education grants are promoting “free inquiry” as required under the First Amendment.

The state Legislature is also targeting campus free speech, as it did last session. Rep. John Reilly, R-Oakland Township, is introducing two bills that would force universities to have policies that are consistent with the Constitution. He’s tired of taxpayers having to foot the bill for lawsuits over misguided speech policies. “If there’s one thing you want on a college campus, it’s free speech,” Reilly says.

Protecting the freedom of speech should not be partisan. But the lack of Democratic pushback to Pelosi’s resolution is Exhibit A for why universities must do a better job educating the next generation of leaders about our most vital rights.

ijacques@detroitnews.com 

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