Privacy Protects Our Freedom of Speech

Dr. Kyle Scott, TheConservative Professor from 1070 AM radio

Lone Star College Board of Trustees

When privacy is threatened so too is our freedom of speech. The government is capable of grotesque abuses of power as recent events at the IRS attest. The government can be turned into a bully pulpit. If gone unchecked, bureaucratic agents can be agents of abuse in which those groups that challenge the current regime can be singled out by the government. As James Madison wrote, “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” If you don’t believe Madison, just ask the Associated Press whose phone records were placed under subpoena by the Justice Department in hopes of finding out who the anonymous sources were to stories that shed an unfavorable light on the White House.

Fortunately public attention has been directed to the abuses of power by the Justice Department and the IRS. But there are instances in our own state government where “the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments” is occurring in this current legislative session.

Senate Bill 346 which passed the Senate and House is being sent to the Governor. SB 346 would require non-profit groups that contribute more than $25,000 to political campaigns in a six month period to disclose the names of donors who contributed $1,000 or more to that organization in the same period. Labor unions would be exempt from this disclosure requirement. The exemption of labor unions explains why this bill has received almost unanimous support from Democrats in the state legislature. Support from Democrats was paramount for this bill to pass as most Republicans who receive support from grassroots organizations such as Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and the Tea Parties oppose this bill. State Representative Charlie Geren (R) and State Senator Ken Seliger (R) have been challenged by the same grassroots organizations this bill targets.

By disclosing the names of contributors, SB 346 would allow donors to these organizations to be targeted by politicians they oppose. In NAACP v. Alabama (1958) the Supreme Court ruled that the right of political groups to keep their membership private was essential for protecting First Amendment rights. If privacy is not protected then those who speak out can come under attack from those whom they speak out against.

The threat to privacy as relevant to First Amendment rights is at the heart of the current AP scandal. The Justice Department wanted to know who was leaking stories to the Associated Press, stories that were damaging to the current administration. This information, if given to the Justice Department, would expose the identity of anonymous sources which could potentially put them at risk. If privacy is not protected there will be fewer people willing to come forward and speak out against the government.

Privacy permits people to speak out against impropriety and to challenge the status quo without risk of political backlash. We need to encourage Governor Perry to veto SB 346 just was we need to encourage our elected officials in Washington to oppose any measures that would quell political dissent. If there is any doubt about the government’s willingness to squash opposition once they know who the opposition is we need not look any further than the IRS office in Cincinnati.

Kyle Scott, PhD, is the author of Federalist Papers: A Reader’s Guide, teaches at the University of Houston, and has just been elected to the Lone Star College Board of Trustees. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Houston or the Lone Star College District, its board or any other officer or employee of those institutions.

Originally posted in the Kingwood Observer, Thursday, May 16, 2013
Kyle Scott’s Blog

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