Updated: March 20, 2014 11:55AM
The Constitution has proved to be a reliable, durable, trustworthy framework for the workings of a democratic republican government. Yet it neglected to lay down some fundamental principles for maintaining a free society, so the Founders added the Bill of Rights.
First among those principles were the rights of conscience, speech, press and association, and to petition government, all enshrined in the 45 words of the First Amendment.
Defending and expanding the reach of those freedoms has been a persistent current in American history. Recent years have seen a new effort to erode those rights, often from liberal forces claiming to aim for some noble goal such as expanding health insurance or ridding politics of corruption.
While this subtle assault on the First Amendment did not begin with the administration of President Barack Obama, it has certainly accelerated under his watch.
Take freedom of conscience, for example. In the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that insurance cover contraceptive and abortifacients, the administration has taken a shriveled interpretation of the First Amendment that guarantees freedom of religion essentially to churches and other houses of worship but little else. Religiously affiliated charities and schools are told they have no meaningful objection to providing that kind of insurance coverage. As for business owners with deeply held religious convictions, well, they are told to forget about their beliefs.
The nibbling away at the freedom of speech has come through so-called campaign finance “reform” laws. Through tight restrictions on who gives how much to this or that candidate, we’re told, government can not only foil corruption in politics, it can police the appearance of corruption.
Actual corruption is best left to laws against fraud, bribery and extortion, not some regulatory scheme over the size of contributions. The appearance of corruption is best left to the judgment of voters.
Once you venture into the constitutionally suspect terrain of policing speech, mischief can only follow. We’ve seen that with the Internal Revenue Service assuming responsibility for how far social welfare non-profits can wade into the political arena. The result is the IRS abuse of Obama’s critics in conservative and tea party organizations.
To try to launder the taxman’s targeting of these groups, the IRS is rewriting its regulations to cut these groups out of the political process by denying them the right to do simple things like host candidate forums or engage in get-out-the-vote efforts, reports Chairman David Camp of the House Ways and Means Committee. None of these rules would apply to the Democratic-friendly unions.
Camp is pushing legislation entitled “Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act of 2014.” I doubt it will have much chance in the Democrat-controlled Senate where leaders like Sen. Charles Schumer have called on the IRS to “redouble” efforts to repress Obama’s critics.
That’s why electing a Republican majority in the Senate is so crucial this year. Restoring the integrity of free speech requires pushing back on these campaign finance control laws, and restraining the IRS would be a good first step.