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The state of free speech in 2022 and key resolutions for the new year

Jan 6, 2023 by Casey Mattox

Happy New Year! New year, same newsletter — still as dedicated to protecting the First Amendment and fostering a culture of free speech as last year. Just maybe with a bit more soreness as my New Year’s resolution has me heading back to the gym for the first time in… well, I’m not sure!

I wanted to start off the New Year by looking back on free speech in 2022. As I mentioned in my last newsletter, Americans feel more polarized today than in recent history. But the culture doesn’t always reflect the law.

That was the case in 2022, when the Supreme Court continued its streak of strengthening the First Amendment with its decisions (which I hope carries over in 2023!), and Americans for Prosperity continued to fight back against government encroaching on Americans’ First Amendment rights.

Here are three big free speech moments of 2022:

The Department of Homeland Security decided against proceeding with its Disinformation Governance Board

Just a few weeks after announcing plans to create a Disinformation Governance Board, the Department of Homeland Security backpedaled on those plans, in a victory for free speech. More speech, not censorship, is the answer to bad ideas and government has no place making itself the arbiter of truth online.

Creating a Disinformation Governance Board was a bad idea. AFP grassroots activists and other Americans responded by speaking out against it, and the Biden administration responded by announcing it was terminating its plans. The size and energy of the response by Americans to this threat to the First Amendment was a highlight of the year. Learn more.

The Foundation of Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) announced plans to protect free speech everywhere

FIRE has long been one of the leading organizations advocating for free speech. Last year, the organization shifted its focus from campuses to become the Foundation of Individual Rights and Expression, to take on a larger mission of defending free speech more broadly.

Don’t worry — they’re committed as ever to advocating for free speech on campus — check out the 2022-2023 College Free Speech Rankings. They’ve expanded, not changed, their mission.

The Supreme Court protected the First Amendment rights of all educators and government employees

When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of “the praying coach” in Kennedy v. Bremerton, it decided that government, as an employer, cannot punish the people it hires for their personal expression – helping to correct the mistake it made in Garcetti v. Ceballos and more fully protecting the First Amendment rights of educators. Learn more.

But fostering a culture of free speech isn’t just about protecting the First Amendment in legislation and judicial decisions. It’s also about understanding we won’t always agree but still need to find a way to coexist alongside each other.

We need to look past our differences to find common ground and work toward solutions for the challenges facing our society.

So with that in mind, here are three free speech resolutions for the new year:

  1. Expand your bubbles and get to know people from other walks of life: Make an effort to diversify viewpoints in your own life — from diversifying the news you follow to the people you interact with. Research shows that some social media algorithms limit exposure to news sources that you might disagree with. But exposure to other viewpoints can reduce polarization and partisan animus. If Americans made an effort to diversity their news diet, or if social media companies stopped trying to give us only the news we most want to hear (the views we already agree with), this could lead to decreasing levels of partisan animus. Furthermore, if you’re going to persuade others it helps to know what actually motivates them. That means you have to listen to their viewpoint before you can persuade them of your own.
  2. Know your rights: Whatever the issue is that you are most passionate about, your ability to advance change on that is tied directly to your ability to exercise your free speech rights — so ensure you know your rights. Unfortunately, there are many ways to threaten First Amendment rights, and it’s not always obvious when it’s happening, so censorship is normalized in small ways, and government encroaches on rights in incremental ways. When you know your rights, not only can you help to protect them, you can also help to ensure others’ rights are protected, as well.
  3. Be courageous: Sometimes speaking up, or defending other people speaking up, is going to be personally challenging, but there’s no replacement for people being willing to take that challenge on. And when you see others defending free speech, stand with them — whether you agree with them or not.

For even more on how to come together despite our differences, read my Stand Together colleague Branden Polk on three tools for bridging divides in the new year.

Thank you for being here; I’m incredibly grateful to all the principled folks who care about protecting Americans’ First Amendment rights. Here’s to another great year of continuing to expand every Americans’ rights to ensure each American can use his or her voice for the causes they believe in.

Civil liberties are the solution to uncivil times. Join the defense of Free Speech:

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