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Liberals take aim at free speech

Nancy Pelosi | AP

Nancy Pelosi | AP

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Updated: May 25, 2012 8:09AM

The Constitution is under attack from the very people who claim to be fierce advocates of civil rights — liberals.

Their goal is to restrict the very first amendment the Founders attached to the Constitution in the Bill of Rights — the one saying Congress “shall make no law” limiting freedom of press, speech and religion, and the rights of association and to petition government.

A “People’s Rights Amendment,” introduced in Congress by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and supported by prominent Democrats such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, would allow the government to parse who has First Amendment free speech rights. It restricts those rights to “natural persons” and states:

“People, person, or persons as used in this Constitution does not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any state, the United States, or any foreign state, and such corporate entities are subject to such regulation as the people, through their elected state and federal representatives, deem reasonable and are otherwise consistent with the powers of Congress and the States under this Constitution.”

Obviously, this comes in reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowing unions and corporations to participate as independent voices in political campaigns. You may recall that in arguing against that kind of advocacy, the Obama administration made the startling claim that government could ban a 500-page book financed by a corporation if only one sentence supported a political candidate.

The ruling sparked outrage from President Barack Obama, other Democrats, Republican Sen. John McCain and others who favor censoring speech through campaign finance “reform” laws.

Corporations are associations of “natural persons” usually for economic activity but sometimes for political goals, as was the case with Citizens United, a nonprofit conservative group. Businesses — and the “natural persons” who run and invest in them — have a big stake in government because of its powers to tax and regulate and thus have a major interest in petitioning government. The “People’s Rights Amendment” is a brazen attempt to make advocacy by such associations of American citizens illegal. Business in general and corporations specifically are demonized in liberal fantasy land. It’s notable that the proposal’s restrictions wouldn’t extend to a big Democratic Party ally, labor unions.

Media voices such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, this newspaper and the broadcast networks are corporations, but the proposal’s backers insist the new amendment wouldn’t apply to them. Beyond that, legislators and bureaucrats could do what they “deem reasonable” to control the speech of freely-entered-into associations. How does that comport to America’s founding principles of limited government and liberty?

The good news is this censorship has no chance of staining our Constitution. The Founders set a high bar for amending it. Amendments must be proposed by two-thirds votes in Congress or by two-thirds of the states and then ratified by three-fourths of the states. In other words, this anti-democratic abomination could be blocked by 13 states, the same number that established this great nation of liberty and adopted the Bill of Rights.

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