On March 2nd, Americans for Prosperity Foundation filed an amicus brief in support of Coach Joseph Kennedy. The Kennedy case – popularly known as the “praying coach” case – asked how government can regulate the personal expression of the people it hires. In our brief we raised the point that subject to certain narrow limitations, speech rights of public employees are protected by the First Amendment. The power of government to speak on its own behalf and the authority of a government employer to manage its own operations are cabined by the First Amendment’s prohibition against conditioning public employment on surrendering constitutional protections. As we last discussed, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 6-3 decision on June 27th that protects free speech for all, ruling that free speech doesn’t end when people work for the state. The ruling shows that the category of regulable “government speech” is very narrow and the realm of protected speech is very broad.
Across the thirty-five AFP chapters throughout the nation, our staff is working to build a movement of people who will scale their voice to protect civil liberties and promote civil debate. We have six specific categories of protections we feel need greater emphasis in society, from community public squares to state capitols to academic institutions and beyond.
First, we must defend free speech on college campuses. Free expression and academic freedom are the fundamental building blocks of the university. These freedoms clear the way for students and scholars to engage with new ideas and with each other. Both are essential for learning, debate, and discovery.
Second, we must protect protest rights. The right to protest our government is a hallmark of America. People have the right to peacefully and powerfully stand alongside others to express their beliefs.
Third, we must preserve people’s privacy. People shouldn’t have to choose between speaking out and staying safe. The ability to maintain privacy makes it possible for people to advocate for causes they believe in.
Fourth, we must preserve the ability to freely express ideas online. Technology has made it possible for people – more than any time in human history — to say what they think and build an audience for their views. Applying the principles of free speech to the digital world allows people to fully realize the benefits of online innovations.
Fifth, we must have the freedom to exercise religious liberties. Freedom of belief, conscience, and religious exercise is vital to people’s ability to live out their beliefs and society’s chance to grow and thrive.
And sixth, we must cancel cancel culture. Free speech doesn’t begin and end with the First Amendment. Civil liberties protect people from government censorship. But other factors can silence people. For our country to meet and overcome the challenges it faces, we must embrace a culture willing to take on challenging discussions with courage and respect.
Civil liberties are the solution to uncivil times. The great 19th century statesman Fredrick Douglass wrote on the eve of a civil war that “liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist.” Our divisions today, while serious, are not that extreme. But it is a critical moment for free expression and ensuring the protection of civil liberties remains the surest solution to uncivil times.
One of America’s greatest strengths is the ability to self-correct — to recognize when the country has contradicted its ideals, then to act collectively to correct the injustice. Essential to that process is the protection of individual rights, for only when each us feels secure enough to act can we act together in defense of each other.
“Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom,” wrote Benjamin Franklin, “and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech.”
To join the conversation and scale your voice to lawmakers, please visit www.action.americansforprosperity.org and sign the letter entitled “Join the Defense of Free Speech.” I’m Ashley Klingensmith, State Director with Americans for Prosperity-Pennsylvania. Find us on Facebook by searching @PAAFP and on Twitter by searching @AFPPennsylvania.
Ashley Sisca Klingensmith | State Director | Americans for Prosperity – PA