First Amendment infringements.
The Washington Post editorial board opines on Middleborough, Massachusetts, where
they voted 183-50 in a town meeting last Monday to approve a proposal that would, among other things, impose a $20 fine on public profanity . . .
Whatever the law's noble intent, such a vague, over-broad assault on the First Amendment will no doubt be struck down as unconstitutional.
Then we have Michigan State Representative Lisa Brown being gagged from speaking because she dared to use the word "vagina" in protesting a bill that would limit abortion rights.
While the Twittersphere delights in the hashtag "#vagina" and we chortle over the puritanical tendencies of Middleborough, MA, these silly measures are symptomatic of a greater assault on the First Amendment, evidenced in the recent hysteria over "media leaks," which has already led to attacks on the free press, and, even more offensive the First Amendment, could lead to an over-broad "Official Secrets Act."
All of these attacks on the First Amendment quash the constitutionally-sacred "marketplace of ideas" and limit the public's right to know. The First Amendment is critical to a functioning democratic society, and if we continue to attack it, whether it be in small town halls, local State Houses or the halls of Congress, we weaken our country.
One more note on media leaks: despite the fact that, as Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have pointed out in the past weeks, classified information appears on the front pages of American newspapers every day, the Obama administration has only prosecuted low and mid-level officials, who are usually whistleblowers. Worse, the Obama administration has used the heavy-handed Espionage Act to prosecute whistleblowers, thereby threatening them with decades in prison and labeling them spies, a label that distances whistleblowers from their natural allies. The Obama administration has brought more Espionage Act prosecutions for alleged mishandling of classified information than all past presidents combined.
The First Amendment has been steadily eroded since 9/11. I'm glad that the ban on anatomically-correct words like "vagina," and words in the English dictionary like "crap," have finally caught the public's attention because of the sheer ridiculousness. But the issues of censorship are much larger. The road to censorship is always incremental – ban some "bad" words, ban some "controversial" books, don't let government employees like Peter Van Buren link to WikiLeaks on their home computer during their personal time . . .
Then people are dumbstruck when their country has become a police state.
Jesselyn Radack is National Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.