At the U.S. Supreme Court, a Key Victory for Free Speech
- By Alan Sears
- Posted Jun 19, 2014
- No Comments »
It was especially heartening this week to learn that the U.S. Supreme Court still believes our Constitution protects the right of Americans to know the truth when they see it. And, in some cases … when they don’t.
During federal elections four years ago, pro-life advocacy group, the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List), revealed the fact that an Ohio Congressman, U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus, had voted for Obamacare – and so cast his support for taxpayer-funded abortion, which Obamacare ensures. The group also intended to post that message on billboards throughout Driehaus’ district, but the congressman filed a complaint against them, blocking the effort.
Under Ohio law, the state’s Elections Commission can forbid publication of any political speech it deems to be false. In the wake of Driehaus’ complaint, the commission ordered SBA List to cease its statements about him. Additional threats from Driehaus prompted the cancellation of the billboards.
Although Driehaus eventually dropped his complaint (after losing the election), SBA List challenged the Ohio law in federal court, arguing that it allowed government officials to censor political speech – a blow to the very heart of democratic choice. The now ex-congressman responded by suing SBA List for defamation.
A flurry of federal court hearings later, the U.S. Supreme Court was asked to decide whether SBA List had a constitutional right to challenge that Ohio law. On June 16, the high court – in a rare 9-0 ruling – said yes, with Justice Clarence Thomas writing that the lower courts had failed to take into account how intimidated groups like SBA List might be at the prospect of being sued – and even facing criminal penalties – simply for stating their political position. The Supreme Court’s decision clears the way for lower courts to revisit SBA List’s lawsuit.
Because the issue of free speech, particularly in defense of life, marriage, family, and religious freedom, is so critical, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the SBA List lawsuit at the 6th Circuit.
“Telling the truth isn’t defamation,” says ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox. “Obamacare permits taxpayer funds to be used for abortions, and that’s simply a fact.” As ADF attorneys wrote in their brief for the 6th Circuit: “SBA List’s assertions were and are demonstrably and unequivocally true…. Therefore, assertions equating a political candidate’s vote for [Obamacare] with a vote for taxpayer-funded abortion are truthful.”
By changing the law to leave that assessment of what’s true to the voters of Ohio – and not what The Wall Street Journal has so aptly described as “a priesthood of regulators” – the Ohio courts could set a crucial precedent for free speech protections across the country.
“The First Amendment forbids government from acting as a ‘truth commission’ on matters of public debate,” says ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “The U.S. Supreme Court has rightfully upheld the freedom of Americans to speak in accordance with their views by allowing them to challenge laws that silence them.”
I hope you will join me in giving thanks for this important decision, and in praying that the high court will bring the same keen wisdom to bear in its upcoming decision with regard to Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius – a case in which ADF is representing the Hahn family, and which has enormous implications not only for the religious freedom of business owners, ministries, and Christian institutions nationwide, but for you and your family. That decision should be announced very soon now; please pray that it will be a victory for religious liberty in America.
Author: Alan Sears