Bobby Kennedy, George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey and the traditional liberals of the civil rights era are tossing and turning in their graves as Uncle Joe rides the new leftist wave down a trough of government-controlled speech and into a constrained and monitored society.
Consider the new administration’s support of speech restrictions at school.
“F—k school f—k softball f—k cheer f—k everything,” a high school student wrote on Snapchat after failing to make the varsity cheerleading squad. When the student was then suspended from the JV cheer team due to the caption, she claimed her post — sent off-campus, without specifically identifying the school — fell under First Amendment protections. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit agreed, upholding her free speech in Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L.
“The notion that a school can discipline a student for that kind of spontaneous, non-threatening, non-harassing expression is contrary to our First Amendment tradition,” argued the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represents the Pennsylvania teen.
This, however, didn’t satisfy the Biden administration’s hunger to continue to gain control over people’s lives.
In an amicus brief, President Biden’s Justice Department asked the U.S. Supreme Court to undo the teen’s First Amendment victory, claiming her speech “unfairly hamstringed school officials” and that “such speech might properly be regarded as school speech that is potentially subject to discipline by school officials if, for instance, it intentionally targets a feature that is essential to or inherent in the athletic program itself.” This is an awfully strange position for a “moderate” liberal to take, especially one who has been in public office since M*A*S*H first aired.
The prominent traditional liberals of Joe’s youth would have been thrilled by the initial free speech victory, and disgusted by the Biden administration’s push to overturn it.
The DOJ is sadly mistaken to think it has any kind of logical argument in this case. Student-speech precedent comes from the landmark 1969 case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, which involved a group of students wearing black armbands to demonstrate their opposition to the Vietnam War.
In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court’s majority ruled that neither students nor teachers “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” The court said that school officials could not prohibit speech based only on the suspicion that such speech might be disruptive.
If cases like Tinker v. Des Moines protect in-school student speech, there can be no coherent argument that out-of-school speech should somehow be more restrictive.
More broadly, we must recognize that the modern leftists have most definitely abandoned 1960s liberalism; yet they clearly aren’t conservative or libertarian — so what are they? It’s easy to say “progressive,” but what does that mean? Instead of using a one-word label, let’s analyze how current-day liberals view the world and the government’s role in society.
According to the modern left, our nation yearns for a new, enlightened moral-czar who can deliver the needed changes to produce societal equity rather than allowing people to decide what’s best for themselves. The government is to be the guiding compass, led by woke politicians who deserve the power to control the citizenry through a full takeover of its freedoms. The government knows what’s best for the world, and the government should be the provider of rights and freedoms, not merely the protector of rights as it was originally conceived.
The new control-freak left seems to have seized the Biden administration. Not only does the administration’s opposition to students’ off-campus free speech demonstrate this, but so does the 35 executive orders enacted by the president in his first 50 days, destroying thousands of energy jobs to satisfy his hyper-green agenda, signing the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan full of handouts to increase Americans’ reliance on the government rather than opening the country, and the Biden administration trying to tell the citizenry how to celebrate the Fourth of July.
The Biden administration’s desire to overturn the initial decision in Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. isn’t just a one-time hiccup, but a symptom of a deep, freedom-destroying disease. The modern left is now acting as the country’s helicopter parents. Oh, how ashamed the hippies would be.
• Davis Soderberg is an associate at the Free Enterprise Project at the National Center for Public Policy Research. Follow him on Twitter @soderberg_davis.
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