Top Columnists Join IJ’s Fight Against The Enemies of Free Speech

December 1, 2002

December 2002

Top Columnists Join IJ’s Fight Against The Enemies of Free Speech

By John E. Kramer

Three of the nation’s most articulate voices for individual liberty recently decried the abuse of free speech by the Michigan Education Association against the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market organization even the MEA’s president had to describe as “effective.” (You may recall, the MEA sued the Mackinac Center when the think tank accurately quoted the MEA’s president in an end-of-the-year letter. The Institute for Justice is now defending the Mackinac Center in that suit free of charge.) Nationally syndicated columnist George F. Will, Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and Thomas Bray of the Detroit News each pointed out the frivolousness of the union’s action and called for a vigorous defense of the First Amendment. Following are excerpts from their features.

John E. Kramer is IJ’s vice president for communications.

Jeff JacobyBoston GlobeWhat would happen if a powerful union sued a think tank for accurately quoting the union’s president in a letter to its supporters? Anyone who went to law school will recognize that as the kind of far-fetched hypothetical that law professors dream up in order to spark classroom discussion. But this is no hypothetical. . . .

I suspect the MEA’s real motive is to force the Mackinac Center to spend tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees; after all, even a meritless claim can be expensive to fight. Fortunately for the center, the esteemed Institute for Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based libertarian public-interest law firm, has stepped forward to represent it at no charge.

Once it was reactionaries who tried to squelch public discourse; in the famous case of New York Times v. Sullivan, a segregationist Alabama official sued for libel when an ad signed by civil-rights leaders criticized his police department. Today it is liberals who are most likely to demand the silencing of speech they disapprove of. But the First Amendment knows neither right nor left. So long as it remains the law of the land, no one will be allowed to padlock the marketplace of ideas.

George F. WillWhen the history of today’s liberalism is written, the writers may marvel at that political persuasion’s remarkable reversal of convictions regarding persuasion. Nothing more tellingly illuminates the contemporary liberal mind than the retreat from the defense of First Amendment guarantees of free speech. . . .

The Michigan Education Association (MEA), a teachers’ union, is suing the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank, charging that the center “misappropriated” the “likeness” of the MEA’s president when it quoted him in a fundraising letter. MEA’s president, announcing establishment of a think tank whose mission would be partly to counter the center’s research and policy work, said: “Quite frankly, I admire what they have done. . . .”

When the history of today’s liberalism is written, the writers may . . . tread lightly. Otherwise they may be sued by liberals demanding subordination of the historians’ rights of freedom of expression to some greater social good that supposedly would be impaired unless the historians’ speech is regulated.

You say it can’t happen here? Notice what already is happening.

Thomas BrayDetroit NewsSome liberals are all in favor of free speech—until they are on the receiving end.

The latest example is the Michigan Education Association’s attempt to harass the conservative-oriented Mackinac Center for Public Policy with a lawsuit on the grounds that it “misappropriated” the name of MEA President Luigi Battaglieri in a fund-raising letter last December. . . . Not even the MEA denies that Battaglieri was quoted correctly. . . .

If it’s not fair to quote a well-known public figure like Battaglieri at a press conference he himself called, then we can forget about the First Amendment. It won’t be long before newspapers will be prohibited from quoting anything a politician, union official or businessman doesn’t want to see in print. And if Battaglieri doesn’t like his words being used to raise funds for his ideological enemy, then maybe he shouldn’t have uttered them.

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