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Court sees value of free speech

August 7, 2007

By BUTCH BOWERS AND KEVIN HALL – Guest columnists

For years, the editorial board of The State newspaper has heaped insult and contempt upon those who dare to differ with their opinion as to the most effective way to deliver a quality education to all of South Carolina’s children. Not satisfied simply to disagree with reform-minded parents and groups like South Carolinians for Responsible Government, The State’s editors have demonized school choice proponents, at one point calling them a “cancer” and accusing them of violating state law by running radio ads in favor of school choice legislation in the weeks prior to an election without disclosing the expense.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently considered the First Amendment rights of Americans to express their views on pending legislation in the weeks prior to an election. The court upheld the free speech rights of everyday citizens and corporate citizens alike in FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life. In a 5-4 decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court concluded that suppression of issue ads and other political speech in the days leading up to an election amounts to an unconstitutional infringement of First Amendment rights. According to the court’s ruling, newspapers and their editorial boards do not have a monopoly on free speech in the days before an election. While this decision obviously undermines the position taken time and again by this newspaper’s editorial board, it is nonetheless good news for America.

No constitutional right is more fundamental to the preservation of our American way of life than the right to free speech. Absent the protections afforded by the Bill of Rights — especially with respect to political speech — the rest of our constitutionally guaranteed liberties might as well have been written in disappearing ink.

PFC

As Chief Justice Roberts said in issuing the court’s opinion: “(d)iscussion of issues cannot be suppressed simply because the issues may also be pertinent in an election. Where the First Amendment is implicated, the tie goes to the speaker, not the censor.”

We respect the right of The State’s editorial board to vent its spleen against those ideas and individuals it opposes. In fact, as much as we find it distasteful that the editorial board of the largest newspaper in South Carolina would refer to a group of concerned parents and citizens as a “cancer,” we nonetheless defend its right to say it. That’s what the First Amendment is all about.

As the school choice debate continues in South Carolina, we hope The State will study the Wisconsin Right to Life decision and will afford school choice proponents the respect owed any citizen who chooses to express a dissenting view. Surely, The State has every right to criticize school choice proponents as the debate rages on in what is truly a marketplace of ideas. We hope, however, that The State will refrain from engaging in accusatory and inflammatory rhetoric that, as Wisconsin Right to Life should demonstrate to any reasonable observer, is simply unsupported by the Constitution. We also hope that The State will not forget that it is the First Amendment that protects its right of expression — as well as the right of every citizen who dares to disagree.

Mr. Bowers and Mr. Hall are Columbia attorneys. They represent South Carolinians for Responsible Government.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Matt permalink
    August 7, 2007 9:26 PM

    Guest columns are about the only place you’ll find free political speech championed in The State.

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