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One thing about a newsletter on constitutional freedoms and civil liberties is that there’s rarely a shortage of topics to discuss. We’re not even halfway into February, and it’s already been a busy new year.
I hope you enjoyed the last newsletter from James about Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and why the separation of powers is important to the protection of civil liberties. But while big cases are pending at the Supreme Court, there’s plenty still going on in the lower courts. Here are just a few of the issues and stories I’m watching.
Amazon is the latest platform to face pressure from the Biden Administration to censor content, after it came to light this week that the White House asked the company to censor search results for books that conflicted with the government’s talking points about COVID-19.
This latest development comes just over a month before the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a case involving the Biden Administration’s censorship of COVID-19 content on social media platforms.
With all this censorship by proxy going on, no wonder the Biden Administration thought it needed a Disinformation Governance Board to keep track of it all.
An Ohio city charged Pastor Chris Avell for violating the city’s zoning ordinance. His violation? He exercised his faith by sheltering homeless people overnight when the weather dipped into deadly freezing temperatures. With the help of my friends at First Liberty Institute, the pastor is now suing the city for attempting to interfere with him exercising his religious beliefs.
This situation illustrates how government overreach affects regular people – even people who are just trying to help others while living out their faith. Unfortunately, Pastor Avell isn’t the only pastor facing fines and punishment by cities whose homeless citizens they are serving.
Just two weeks ago, the U.S. Fifth Circuit decided against the First Amendment rights of a citizen journalist who was arrested by the police for … well, doing journalism.
Background: In the Texas border town of Laredo, Priscilla Villarreal works as a supervisor for a wrecking crew. More than half a decade ago, she also began reporting on local crimes on her Facebook page. In legal terms, she was simply exercising her First Amendment rights to investigate and publish stories – including those critical of law enforcement – to her Facebook page.
The local police concocted a strategy to harass and ultimately arrest her, all for asking them questions they didn’t like. When she sued them for violating her First Amendment rights, the court dismissed her case saying that the officers were entitled to “qualified immunity” because it wasn’t “clearly established” that arresting a citizen for asking questions violated her First Amendment rights.
Sadly, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld that decision by a 9-7 vote in late January.
AFPF was one of the organizations advocating on her side and the side of First Amendment freedoms.
In a dissent, Fifth Circuit Judge James Ho highlighted the significance that amicus briefs were filed by AFPF and several fellow organizations dedicated to constitutional principles, including Alliance Defending Freedom, Cato, First Liberty Institute, and the Institute for Justice:
I’m sure that a number of these amici disagree with Villarreal on a wide range of issues. But although they may detest what she says, they all vigorously defend her right to say it. These organizations no doubt have many pressing matters—and limited resources. Yet they each decided that standing up to defend the Constitution in this case was worth the squeeze. This united front gives me hope that, even in these divided times, Americans can still stand up and defend the constitutional rights of others— including even those they passionately disagree with. We all should have joined them in this cause. Because my colleagues in the majority decline to do so, I must dissent.
The good news is that FIRE plans to appeal Priscilla’s case to the Supreme Court.
I’m proud that AFPF and AFP work alongside partners to defend the Constitution and the rights it enshrines, whether it’s a citizen journalist collecting and disseminating information, a student wearing a Gadsden flag, or a father speaking up at a school board meeting.
Standing up for the rights of one person helps to ensure that all Americans are able to advocate for the ideas we’re passionate about.
Look, I get it. There are few worse feelings than craving Chick-Fil-A and then realizing – it’s Sunday. But this is exactly where the First Amendment does its work – protecting liberty when my will (or stomach) would go weak. But New York politicians are considering a law to make rest stop Chick-Fil-A’s open on Sundays.
Unfortunately for them, the First Amendment prohibits the government from forcing businesses to open in violation of their religious convictions.
And fortunately for Chick-Fil-A and the rest of us, it looks unlikely that New York will follow through – perhaps realizing that the pressure of a few NY regulators isn’t going to make Chick-Fil-A’s owners violate their conscience. All they’d do is remove Chick-Fil-A from the rest stops – denying New Yorkers tasty chicken (and the sauce!) the other six days of the week.
I covered this in the New York Post on Sunday, writing:
Increasingly Americans are turning to the courts when lawmakers pass nonsensical laws that infringe on their freedoms. And courts are certainly part of the answer. But as the example of those long-established occupational licensing laws demonstrates, courts have their limits…
So instead of putting the burden on judges, let’s do our part. We did, after all, elect these people (at least the legislators we did elect, not the bureaucrats who sometimes act as though we did). And we can vote them out if we don’t like the pointless rules they’re making. Citizens don’t do the lawmakers, the courts, or the country any favor if we ask judges to babysit lawmakers (and we are, all of the time).
Let’s end with some positive news. People coming together to support nonprofit organizations is a vital part of our civil society. And two Florida lawmakers have proposed new federal legislation – supported by AFP – that aims to protect that freedom.
Last month, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Florida Congressman Greg Steube introduced the Safeguarding Charity Act, which would protect the First Amendment rights of nonprofit charities.
Here’s Representative Steube on the legislation:
Due to multiple, radical judicial decisions targeting religious schools, Congress must now codify that an organization holding tax-exempt status is not to be considered as a recipient of federal financial assistance. The Safeguarding Charity Act will help prevent the weaponization of our judicial system against America’s houses of worship, religious schools, charities, and other non-profit organizations. These organizations should not be subjected to a series of laws and regulations triggered by receipt of federal financial assistance. I thank Americans for Prosperity for joining together with more than 20 impactful organizations in support of our legislation.
As I’ve said before, Americans are the most charitable people in the world. Our country is better off when Americans join together to solve problems in our communities, and the First Amendment explicitly protects this freedom.
The last thing the government should be doing is making it harder for people to help one another.
Did I miss anything? Let me know by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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