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Government Officials Call for Curbs on Free Speech, Citing Disinformation Threats

by Richard A Reagan

Several government officials and public figures have voiced opinions that challenge the foundational American principle of free speech under the First Amendment. They argue that the spread of disinformation is a severe threat to democracy, warranting new measures that could impinge on free speech rights. 

Katherine Maher, the newly appointed president and CEO of National Public Radio (NPR), has publicly advocated for diminished free speech rights.

Maher, who assumed her role at NPR in March after leading the Wikimedia Foundation, suggested in a 2021 interview with NBC News that the First Amendment offers “robust protection of rights” which complicates governmental efforts to control disinformation.

Despite her influential positions, Maher has been criticized for her lack of journalistic experience and her history of involvement with organizations heavily influenced by political agendas.

Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson also raised eyebrows during the Murthy v. Missouri case. She expressed concern that the First Amendment might excessively restrain the federal government from acting against harmful disinformation on social media platforms. Her remarks during the March hearing hinted at a view that the government should perhaps have a more active role in managing online narratives.

Adding to the debate, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer described the First Amendment as “a thorn in the side” of his efforts to manage election integrity.

In a speech to Maricopa Community Colleges, Richer stated, “I posit that the gravest threat to voting rights and our elected form of government is no longer the systematic disenfranchisement of a particular class of people, but instead the undermining of the entire election system through lies and disinformation. And it is in this respect, that the Constitution today is in some ways a thorn in the side of my office. Specifically the First Amendment.” 

These statements have sparked a significant backlash from various quarters. Critics argue that such positions undermine the very essence of democratic freedoms.

Abe Hamadeh, a GOP candidate for Arizona’s 8th Congressional District, shared his thoughts on Richer’s perspective during an appearance on the “Just the News, No Noise” TV show. He expressed surprise, stating, “It’s shocking how reckless our government officials are and his statements about how the First Amendment, it gets in his way.”

Hamadeh added, “So it’s very disingenuous to see Stephen Richer, and he always claims that he’s a protector of democracy, a defender of democracy. He thinks he’s protecting us against these threats. But in fact, he’s the one who’s a threat to democracy, his incompetence and possible corruption, I believe, has done so much damage to Arizona’s standing.” 

Mike Davis, founder and president of the Article III Project, stressed that the First Amendment serves as a crucial barrier against governmental control over speech and thought.

“The First Amendment is our main defense against this war on information. Of course it gets in their way. The entire point of the First Amendment is to prevent the government from policing information and to protect our rights to political speech,” said Davis.

According to Davis, the real threat comes not from misinformation, but from attempts by government officials to dictate permissible narratives. “Information control is how the career bureaucrats in Washington who view themselves as the arbiters of truth secure control over our thoughts and opinions.” 

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