Compelled Speech is Not Free

At first glance, Senate Bill 226 may seem harmless. It is portrayed simply as an effort to provide voters with the comfort of additional “transparency” in the election process.

But we must look closer. The simple transparency that SB266 claims to provide will actually undermine our fundamental first amendment rights to political speech, and that’s why I opposed this bill on the Senate floor.

Our founders very wisely understood that self-government relies on an informed populace. As citizens, we rely on the free exchange of ideas so that we may sift through the information that comes our way and decide for ourselves which facts and opinions will inform our voting decisions. It is the responsibility of government to assure this free flow of information is not disrupted.

However, if the information we receive during that election is actually controlled or compelled by government, can we really call it a free exchange of ideas?

The answer is obvious, and it is exactly why government bureaucrats have no business micromanaging what information we are allowed to see, what information we must see, nor how information is presented to us.

Yet that’s exactly what SB226 will do. It compels those who produce political mailers to include specific information demanded by the government, and mandates precisely how that information will be presented.

SB226 requires that when “slate mailers” are sent by organizations representing the view point of public safety officials, the number of members the organization represents must be stated on the piece. SB226 also compels slate mailers to follow arbitrary mandates as to what font size, type face, formatting, and contrasting colors must be used.

Electoral-CollegeWhile the bill may not seem like a burden on free speech on its face, SB226’s mandates mean there is less room for the organization to share their message with voters. Thus, its impact in the free exchange of ideas could be limited when compared to others who are not subject to the same restrictions.

If the government can mandate the inclusion of specific information when it comes to one issue, such as public safety, what’s to stop it deciding it must craft similar restraints for other topics, such as climate change, or education? If government can restrict the messages on one medium, in this case slate mailers, we can reasonably anticipate the restrictions will eventually spread to other mediums, such as newspaper ads, or blogs, or social media posts.

Allowing government to decide for us what we can be exposed to, and in what manner, is a very dangerous threat to our First Amendment rights. It is similar to campus officials at public universities deciding which speakers and messages students are allowed to hear, and which messages they must be “protected” from.  It is the business of government to assure that all messages can be heard, not to decide for itself which messages are safe for us to hear, or what information must accompany the message.

Compelled speech is not free speech. True freedom, including freedom of expression, can be a messy business. But freedom sure beats the alternative. SB226 is the alternative.

Sen. Joel Anderson represents the 38th District in the California State Senate. 

Advancing Bill Targets Religious Schools

shocked-kid-apCalifornia legislators could soon wipe out the social and cultural exemptions afforded to state religious schools that they depend upon for their identity.

Senate Bill 1146, now moving through committee in the Assembly, “aims to include all colleges and universities receiving state financial assistance together with students receiving state financial aid under the authority of the Equity in Higher Education Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex,” as Christianity Today noted. “The bill, authored by state Senator Ricardo Lara, was passed by the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee with an 8-2 vote and is now with the Committee on the Judiciary.”

Instant controversy

Intentionally or not, Lara poked a hornet’s nest. “The bill has created a storm of controversy in the Legislature,” the Los Angeles Times observed. “It was approved by a sharply divided state Senate last month,” with critics charging that its language was overbroad, vague and out of sync with the First Amendment’s protections on freedom of association and religious practice. “The bill would limit conscience protections to only those schools that prepare students for ministry, teach theology or prepare students for other pastoral careers,” charged Matt Cover at OpportunityLives. “If a school tried to maintain its religious identity, it could be faced with crippling lawsuits, forcing schools to make the choice between shutting down or eliminating their religious nature, depriving their students the opportunity of an education that incorporates their religious views alongside academic learning.”

Lara, D-Bell Gardens, seemed somewhat taken aback by the firestorm. The state senator “said it is not his intent to interfere with what is taught in the classroom or requirements that students attend chapel twice a week, and that he is willing to consider changes in his bill to address some concerns,” according to the Times, although he added “he is adamant that religious universities should be subject to some of the anti-discrimination laws that apply to public colleges.”

Stark choices

In-state religious leaders responded with furor — partly because of how close to the state the bill would draw faith-based schools, and partly because of how far away they would be pushed if they tried not to comply. “The bill effectively eliminates the religious exemption under current law that allows Christian colleges and universities to operate in accordance with their beliefs, including the freedom to hire only Christian faculty and staff,” wrote Kurt Krueger, president of Concordia University Irvine. “If passed without amendments, the new law would also very likely disqualify students attending California Christian colleges and universities from eligibility for Cal Grants, a key state-level student aid program.”

Lara’s bill and its implications also quickly resonated nationwide. Billy Graham Evangelistic Association president Rev. Franklin Graham tore into the proposal on Facebook, portraying it as the spear tip of a nationwide “anti-Christian movement.”

“Now the California state Legislature wants to force Christian Universities like Biola University to conform to secular standards,” he wrote. “In effect, we would no longer have Christian universities in this state — and unfortunately this secularism is like an evil plague that spreads.”

Following federal cues

Biola has become something of a symbol of the legal front in the culture war around faith and sexual politics. “[I]n response to signals from the federal government that transgender K-12 students should be protected under anti-discrimination laws,” EdSource recalled, “Biola decided to apply for a religious exemption that would give the university the right to expel transgender students and refuse to admit, house or accommodate them, without jeopardizing federal funding.” Under current law, California affords “a blanket exemption to the anti-discrimination provisions of the Equity in Higher Education Act to all colleges that are ‘controlled by a religious organization,’” as the site added. SB1146 would take away that exemption, prohibiting any form of restriction on “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in admissions, housing and campus activities.”

This piece was originally published by

Soda Wars: Business Groups Sue San Francisco To Defend First Amendment

Soda pourA trio of business groups is suing San Francisco to protect the First Amendment rights of companies that sell and market sugary drinks.

On 24 July, the California Retailers Association, the American Beverage Association and the California State Outdoor Advertising Association filed a lawsuit to prevent mandatory warning labels on soda ads. The San Francisco ordinance, which was passed in June by nine votes to zero would cover soda ads on billboards, buses, transit shelters, posters and stadiums.

The plaintiffs argue “the city is trying to ensure that there is no free marketplace of ideas, but instead only a government-imposed, one-sided public ‘dialogue’ on the topic — in violation of the First Amendment.” They hope the District Court will overturn the city government’s decision.

The label, which must cover 20 percent of the ad, reads “WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.” The labels mimic warning signs placed on cigarette packs.

Drink manufacturers will not only have to comply with producing warning labels but will be subject to a wave of new restrictions. Baylen Linnekin, chief executive of Keep Food Legal, writes, “the law would prohibit soda makers from identifying the products they sell while protesting against the law on public space. It bars ads advertising soda, Frappuccinos, or some Jamba juices on public property.”

Linnekin identifies two violations of the First Amendment in the city ordinance. One being the government preventing speech with which it disagrees and two, compelling the speaker to switch their language to that preferred by the government.

Government efforts to label certain products with health warnings have taken a knock in recent years. The California plaintiffs may draw hope from the 2012 case where tobacco companies won a major victory after a federal appeals court struck down requirements for cigarette packs to display graphic health warnings.

Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the District of Columbia Circuit, who voted with the majority in the case, wrote ”this case raises novel questions about the scope of the government’s authority to force the manufacturer of a product to go beyond making purely factual and accurate commercial disclosures and undermine its own economic interest — in this case, by making ‘every single pack of cigarettes in the country a mini billboard’ for the government’s antismoking message.”

The Food and Drug Administration which was pursuing the policy has not attempted to reintroduce the graphic labels.

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Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

Judge Rebukes Harris’ Effort to Access Group’s Donor Lists

Written by Steven Greenhut and published in the San Diego Union-Tribune:

California Attorney General Kamala Harris has been in the news lately as the Democratic establishment’s anointed successor to Barbara Boxer, the U.S. senator who has announced her coming retirement. But a recent ruling by a federal court temporarily smacking down one of Harris’ decisions may give her political foes a little ammunition.

In December, this column reported on a federal First Amendment lawsuit filed by the Virginia-based conservative group Americans for Prosperity. The group — co-founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, who are a lightning rod for critics from the political left — argues the AG is trying to squelch free speech by demanding its list of donors.

The IRS requires such tax-exempt charitable groups (the foundation is a 501(c)3, which provides “education” and does some limited lobbying for bills and initiatives) to file an annual report called a Form 990 and a Schedule B, which lists donors who give more than $5,000 a year. The IRS is required to keep the information about donors private.

California also requires groups to register with the attorney general’s office. …

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