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Ready for the holiday weekend? If you’re looking for a free speech update to pack next to your cooler and towels, you’ve come to the right place.
So let’s dive in (to the round-up, not the pool, unfortunately).
This month, the Supreme Court released decisions in Twitter, Inc. v. Taamneh and Gonzalez v. Google LLC.
Twitter won, and Gonzalez was sent back to the 9th Circuit to be reconsidered in light of Twitter’s win.
These decisions are big wins for free speech. The internet has made it easier than ever for Americans and people all over the world to speak to one another. With its decision today in Twitter v. Taamneh and its dismissal in Gonzalez v. Google, the Supreme Court declined the invitation to interfere with free expression online.
The next big flashpoint in the fight over free speech online will come when the Court decides whether to hear two cases involving Florida’s and Texas’ laws regulating social media platforms in NetChoice v. Paxton and Moody v. NetChoice.
And as readers of this newsletter know, the Court’s decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis – coming any time in the next month – will have significant implications for free speech online.
Last week, AFPF submitted an amicus brief in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, urging the court to reverse the district court’s order that the school employees who brought the suit to protect their rights pay the government more than $300,000 in attorney’s fees in Henderson v. School District of Springfield R-12:
The plaintiffs – two local, public school staff members – filed suit against the Springfield School District alleging violations of the First Amendment and Unconstitutional Conditions Doctrine. The lower court disagreed and entered judgment in favor of the school district. In an unusual step, the court granted the government’s full $300,000-plus request for attorney’s fees, opining that Plaintiffs’ First Amendment claims wasted the court’s time. In entering this massive award, the court turned the civil rights fee-shifting statute on its head.
This is a dangerous precedent. There was nothing frivolous about the case that @BradenBoucek and @kimmiehermann brought. And the courts must remain open to resolve these critical questions about the First Amendment’s limits on the government’s power. 3/4
— Casey Mattox (@CaseyMattox_) May 20, 2023
Compelled speech isn’t free speech, and that includes the government compelling speech on discriminatory and divisive diversity training. And ordering attorney’s fees against a plaintiff suing the government – especially a public interest organization bringing First Amendment claims – is exceedingly rare. If the court didn’t believe a First Amendment violation occurred, it should have simply dismissed the case, not ordered a good faith litigant seeking to vindicate First Amendment rights to pay $330K in fees.
Our coalition partners on this brief include the ACLU, Alliance Defending Freedom, the Defense of Freedom Institute for Policy Studies, Reason Foundation, and FIRE – organizations across the ideological spectrum.
When you know you’re on the right side of civil rights. pic.twitter.com/Qdql01ThWw
— Braden Boucek (@BradenBoucek) May 19, 2023
AFPF is proud to work alongside anyone to protect Americans’ First Amendment rights and civil liberties.
After being fired by Fox News in late April, talk show host Tucker Carlson recently announced on Twitter that he would relaunch his show on the social media platform.
Technological innovators have equipped people to bypass traditional media gatekeepers. Carlson is the latest example of that.
Free speech is necessary to help us discover truth. And we need it most when we think we already know what truth is and don’t need to hear it challenged. Media gatekeeping, while entirely their right, can run counter to free speech and the search for truth.
— Casey Mattox (@CaseyMattox_) May 10, 2023
My AFP colleague James Czerniawski lays out how the news shows that social media makes it possible for more and more people to share ideas and why Americans should be wary of calls for government to regulate what ideas get shared:
It’s fine for legacy media to keep their gates.
They can have them.
However, the internet and social media have been a tool for making that gate less formidable than it has ever been.
Social media has been a powerful conduit for advocating competing ideas and connecting conservatives with audiences in truly amazing ways.
The same rules apply to social media companies, too.
Carlson’s new show wasn’t the only thing flying around Twitter recently. The New Yorker published a story on “a club for the cancelled.” Essentially, there’s a “monthly New York hangout” where folks “get together to have discussions they feel they can’t have anywhere else”:
Every month, more than two hundred people from the media, academia, and other intellectual circles are invited to a private hangout in New York City, which is known as the Gathering of Thought Criminals. There are two rules. The first is that you have to be willing to break bread with people who have been socially ostracized, or, as the attendees would say, “cancelled”—whether they’ve lost a job, lost friends, or simply feel persecuted for holding unpopular opinions. Some people on the guest list are notorious: élite professors who have deviated from campus consensus or who have broken university rules, and journalists who have made a name for themselves amid public backlash (or who have weathered it quietly). Others are relative nobodies, people who for one reason or another have become exasperated with what they see as rampant censorious thinking in our culture.
Many people who track trends related to self-censorship and related phenomena have been raising concerns about “cancel culture” for years, often to be told that there’s no such thing or that the effects of being “canceled” are overblown.
With more traditional news outlets covering the existence of an environment in which people feel like they can’t have healthy debates about sensitive topics, we may be reaching the point where we can meaningfully address the rise of cancel culture – and how a culture of accountability and civil debate is more productive.
(Sidenote: I thought we gave the British that second “L” in 1776, so I’m not sure why The New Yorker is spelling “canceled” that way.)
In August of last year, the writer and free speech advocate Salman Rushdie was attacked at an event, leaving him blind in one eye and without the use of one hand. Last week, he made his first in-person public appearance since the attack, attending PEN America’s annual gala.
During his appearance, Rushdie stated, “Terrorism must not terrorize us. Violence must not deter us… La lutte continue. The struggle goes on.”
I recently asked Twitter for recs on the best BBQ in northern Virginia and D.C. Check out the replies here:
Best bbq in northern Virginia/DC? Go.
— Casey Mattox (@CaseyMattox_) May 16, 2023
I ended up giving Smoking Kow a shot and was not disappointed. The mac and slaw were particularly praiseworthy. But I’m still looking for a quality BBQ joint in the DMV with sweet tea!
Let’s end with a note about Memorial Day and what it means. Though I spoke lightly about Memorial Day up top, it’s more than just the official kick-off to summer: It’s a deeply somber holiday. Freedom does not come easy, and I’m indescribably thankful to the men and women who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice to defend freedom across the world. America is fortunate to have such heroes.
I wish you all a meaningful Memorial Day weekend.
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