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How S.1. undermines free speech

Jun 22, 2021 by AFP

Today the Senate will vote on S. 2093, the “For The People Act” (formerly S.1). The legislation’s backers pitch it as protecting voting rights, but it undermines free speech. Were it already law, S.2093 would have stifled the robust debate that’s happening right now about the bill itself.

Nearly a third of it isn’t about voting at all. Instead, it’s about restricting and controlling Americans’ ability to speak out and shape daily discourse — a cornerstone of American democracy. We agree with the ACLU that — where free speech rights are concerned — the bill has “significant flaws that are detrimental to the health of our democracy.”

If enacted, the federal government will become the de facto gatekeeper of public conversation on the most consequential issues. Politicians and bureaucrats would have the power to decide which people and which positions get aired – and which don’t.

Diversity in the public square is an essential ingredient in producing good policy and advancing America’s principles. Justice movements throughout American history often started as minority opinions. The freedom of speech empowered people to raise new ideas and overcome many of our country’s worst wrongs. Robust debates lead to better solutions to big problems, and America faces plenty of big problems right now.

AFP has called on every senator to oppose S.2093. In a new key vote letter to senators, AFP shines a light on the bill’s most concerning provisions.

2093 would discourage people from supporting charitable and civic organizations that represent the voices of millions of Americans. Several of the bill’s requirements would expose the personal information of people who give to non-profits engaged in issue advocacy — groups ranging from organizations fighting cancer who might thank a senator for introducing a research bill to groups working on education reform who rank policymakers on their support for their cause. Putting supporters of groups and causes on government lists opens them up to harassment and intimidation. And in this polarized environment, even causes that aren’t controversial now might become controversial, subjecting supporters today to intimidation and attacks tomorrow.

We’re committed to protecting civil liberties and strengthening democracy. We believe every eligible citizen who wants to vote should be able to easily exercise their right and have confidence their vote is counted. There are also existential threats to free speech in this moment, and that’s where AFP is best positioned to engage. People’s ability to freely think, speak, and join with others contributes to a diverse public square and helps make civic engagement meaningful. AFP will continue to pursue policies and reforms that make it easier for all Americans to engage in civic life.

Some of our past work includes:

Constitutional rights clear the way for courageous people to drive progress. That progress is urgently needed.

To make it happen, we need to make it easier, not harder, for people of all backgrounds and perspectives to stand up and speak out. We need more people, not fewer, working together to solve our country’s biggest problems.

We need policies that make that possible. S.1 does not.