Last week, seven individual Twitter account holders joined the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University in a lawsuit against President Donald Trump. The lawsuit alleges that the Trump administration violated the First Amendment by blocking seven people on Twitter from the @realDonaldTrump account because they mocked or criticized the president and his policies.
The Trump administration was given warning a month ago from the Knight Institute in a letter that advised the president to unblock the accounts or face litigation. Both the letter and the legal complaint argue that because Trump uses his account as a platform for his policies, he cannot legally block individuals from reading and responding to the tweets.
On today’s episode of the Young Voices Podcast, Stephen speaks with Advocate Dan King. Dan is a Niagara University alumnus, where he double majored in communications and social studies education. While at NU, Dan helped start his college libertarian chapter. He currently works as an editor and blogger for a small town newspaper in upstate New York. Dan is also the secretary for his local Libertarian Party chapter.
Dan wrote a piece for RealClearPolicy, outlining a bill in the U.S. Senate & House to protect individuals crossing the border from having their phone’s and devices invaded by government agents.
Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) recently introduced a much-needed, bipartisan Senate bill to combat mobile device searches. Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO.) and Blake Farenthold (R-TX) also introduced this bill to the House. The “Protecting Data at the Border” Act is a vital step towards protecting the American people from one of the most egregious forms of government overreach.
The bipartisan, bicameral bill would shut down what Wyden calls a “legal Bermuda Triangle,” which allows the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to search people’s mobile devices at the United States border without a warrant. If passed, the bill would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a “warrant based on probable cause” before seizing the device of “a U.S. person.” It also prevents law enforcement from denying or delaying entry to the country if a person refuses to turn over PIN numbers, passwords, or social media account information.
Current device search policy applies to U.S. citizens and noncitizens alike and allows the federal government to search cell phones, tablets, and other mobile devices at border crossings without any suspicion of criminal wrongdoing. In 2009, after concerns were raised about the legality of the policy, the DHS conducted a civil liberties impact assessment, which came to the troubling conclusion that such searches are justified. The summary reads:
“We also conclude that imposing a requirement that officers have reasonable suspicion in order to conduct a border search of an electronic device would be operationally harmful without concomitant civil rights/civil liberties benefits.”
In other words: Fourth Amendment need not apply.
It is abundantly clear that this policy treads all over civil liberties. As the American Civil Liberties Union points out, federal authorities are granted “broader” power near border areas. But those powers do not allow them blatantly to violate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Students’ free speech rights are constantly suppressed across American college campuses. Recently, a student sued Los Angeles Pierce College after he was prohibited from passing out pocket constitutions outside the college’s “free speech zone”, which confines speech activities to a small outdoor area.
Harvard is no exception; it has speech codes that clearly infringe upon students’ First Amendment rights. One example is Harvard’s racial harassment policy, which bars students from “using racial epithets, making racially derogatory remarks, and using racial stereotypes.” The wording used in this speech code is far too vague and therefore threatensstudents’ free speech rights.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law […] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” Harvard is a private institution and is not legally bound by the First Amendment. However, Harvard is considered to be an institution that encourages America’s best and brightest to pursue truth. In order to do so effectively, Harvard must foster diversity in intellectual thought and therefore respect students’ right to free speech, regardless of how different and controversial it may be.
However, Harvard was given a “red light” categorization by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education for having at least one policy that obstructs freedom of speech. FIRE is a non-profit organization that “defends and sustains individual rights at America’s colleges and universities.” Harvard’s “red light” policy defines racial harassment “as actions on the part of an individual or group that demean or abuse another individual or group because of racial or ethnic background. Such actions may include, but are not restricted to, using racial epithets, making racially derogatory remarks, and using racial stereotypes.” We must keep in mind that what is offensive to one person may not be offensive to another.
The biggest story so far surrounding this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is the announcement that Phil Robertson, the controversial star of the hit A&E show Duck Dynasty, will receive the second annual Andrew Breitbart First Amendment Award.
No matter how much new buzz the announcement brings CPAC, the decision betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how free speech works, and where the future of nationally competitive conservatism lies.
At the end of 2013, Robertson was briefly suspended by the network over remarks he made in a GQ interview calling homosexuality sinful and comparing it to bestiality. At the time, his suspension sparked a culture war flare-up between gay rights supporters and social conservatives, who felt Robertson’s freedom of speech was being suppressed.
However, the Duck Dynasty flap (pun intended) was a dispute within a private organization well within its rights to take the action it did. A&E had the authority to suspend Robertson as soon as he voluntarily signed the contract for the show, no how it handled the controversy afterwards.
Had the government taken Duck Dynasty off the air, I’d be up in arms, even as a member of the very LGBT community he marginalized. But that is not what happened here.
The First Amendment protects Americans from government censorship. A network’s decision to craft the messages it broadcasts is itself an exercise of free speech.
And let’s not forget that A&E’s decision to reinstate Robertson after vociferous protests proves that the First Amendment was as healthy as ever. The government didn’t force anyone to do anything here.
Just as many argue that evangelical Christian bakers should not be forced to make wedding cakes for marriages they oppose, consistency demands that neither should a private television network be forced to air opinions it doesn’t want to promote. Freedom of speech cuts both ways, and conservatives who truly care about promoting the values of the Founding Fathers will defend it regardless of its popularity.