Jan 29 2008
I believe the words of Winston Churchill that, “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” The most fundamental tenet of democracy is that anyone and everyone enjoy the right to speak their mind at any time, in any place and on any subject. The important part of free speech, moreover, is not the “speech” part but the “free” part. Americans must never be subjected to government restrictions on their speech, particularly their political speech.
The South Carolina Senate, to my great chagrin and disappointment, will soon consider a piece of legislation that will require individuals that band together in order to engage in political speech to register with the government. Senate bill 714, if enacted, would require anyone supporting an advocacy group by donating $100 or more to that group to give the government their name and address.
The idea that a non-profit organization that gathers the collective voice of concerned citizens on a particular subject should be forced to give over the names and addresses of their supporters smacks of the sort of oppressive government that Americans have spent the better part of two centuries fighting against, both at home and abroad.
The bill would require a businessman in Anderson who donates to a non-profit organization that supports lower taxes and spending limits to give his name and address to the government. It would require a mother in Lexington who donates to a non-profit organization that advocates school choice to tell the government who she is and where she lives. It would require a pastor in Beaufort who supports with his own resources an organization that advocates traditional marriage to register with the government, like a felon has too (and if he does not he could go to jail, just like a felon).
This bill eviscerates advocacy efforts on both ends of the political spectrum. A doctor who donates to a group that lobbies for universal health care must inform the government that he did so. People who give money to a group that seeks a ban on public prayer or greater gun control must put their personal information on a list to be held by the government. I disagree with these particular initiatives, but I repel at the suggestion that people should have to fill out forms and have a file with the government before they can express themselves.
The only explanation for gagging speech is fear of the message. I do not know what message the proponents of this legislation fear, but I do know that once we thwart the constitution by limiting speech, the rest of our rights will fall like dominoes.
The pity of this attempt is that it reveals the desire of too many elected officials to avoid open debate and hard decision-making. It mirrors the so-called “campaign finance reform” at the federal level which many observers correctly labeled the “incumbent protection act.” The McCain-Feingold Act prevents political speech critical of someone running for office within 30 days of the election. The passage of S. 714 foretells such preventions here in South Carolina. If the government succeeds in forcing you to sign up before allowing you to speak, they can just as easily stop you from speaking altogether because once a right is removed from the status of “inalienable” there are no limits to its abrogation. As Thomas Jefferson noted, “law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.”
We, as free citizens, should demand that government listen to the people instead of requiring us to register before we speak. We, as free citizens, should expect our public officials to endorse or reject our hopes and expectations, not use our desire to speak as a weapon against us. We, as free citizens, must preserve our freedom to speak to our government and not allow our government to become the arbiters of when and where and how we can speak. Once we allow government to suspend one of our rights, the next ones will go more quickly.
Thomas Jefferson further proclaimed that, “The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.” Senate bill 714 highjacks our most basic freedom, that of free speech. I will fight the contamination of our politics by the usurpation of our right to speak. I hope you will join me.