Move Over ‘Woke’ Crowd, Republicans Heart Censorship, Too

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(DonkeyHotey via Flickr; cropped from original)
Republicans tend to be in favor of censoring speech involving certain pet topics, as evidenced by recent legislation in ruby-red Utah and Kentucky.

Many Democrats and progressives have so embraced cancel culture and illiberalism that one could be excused for thinking that the left currently has a lock on censorship.

Whether it’s Pepe Le Pew getting the axe, Abraham Lincoln being jerked from a school’s name, or a publisher dumping Woody Allen’s memoir, those seeking the cancelations of persons, movies, or books almost invariably seem to define themselves as “woke” leftists.

But modern-day Maoists and lefty McCarthyites own no monopoly on the suppression of speech. As Front Page Confidential has pointed out previously, conservatives and Republicans are often just as intolerant of the speech they don’t cotton to.

For example, within the GOP, anyone critical of Donald Trump is signing up for a world of hurt. And one need only recall the conservative rage over football players such as Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the National Anthem to understand that Republicans like wallowing in cancel culture as well.

(In 2018, conservatives actually set fire to their Nike products in a fit of childish pique after Nike selected Kaepernick to be its spokesman in an ad campaign.)

Nor do many GOPers have a problem with direct government censorship as opposed to the more indirect kind enforced by online outrage.

Two recent examples come from deeply red states: Utah and Kentucky. In the former, restricting access to porn is the priority, while in the latter, it’s all about criminalizing the speech of Americans protesting police abuses.

Every Sperm Is Sacred

The overly religious are always trying to spare us from the evils of pornography-induced masturbation by limiting everyone’s access to adult content. And Utah, which is dominated by the conservative teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, takes the top prize in attempting to ban porn.

Of course, Utah’s state legislature is proscribed in this effort both by the U.S. Constitution and the prevalence of porn online. Legislators cannot outright ban adult content — most of which is legal. But that doesn’t stop Utah from doing its Brigham Young best to work around the dictates of the First Amendment.

In the early aughts, Utah actually had a “porn czar” to field complaints about dirty pics, but the position has since been eliminated. In 2016, Utah’s GOP-dominated legislature passed a resolution declaring porn to be a “public health crisis” that leads to a “biological addiction” — not to mention hairy palms, blindness and erectile dysfunction.

As with anti-abortion fanatics, anti-porn zealots are all about advancing the ball, year by year, inch by inch.

In 2020, Utah lawmakers required all porn to come with a warning label. This year, they took the war on porn a step further with a law that would require all new cellphones and tablets sold in Utah to come with “adult content filters” that are active at the time of purchase.

(Interestingly, this legislation, and other bills like it, have been linked to an anti-gay marriage activist who once sued the state of Utah to let him marry his laptop.)

The proposal is impractical from a technical standpoint and likely unconstitutional. But in Utah, even sane politicians feel obliged to endorse such anti-fappery, regardless of Utahans apparently having a ravenous appetite for smut.

Take Republican state Sen. Jake Anderegg, who told The Salt Lake Tribune that “logistically” the law “won’t work,” but he decided to vote for it anyway because it “sends a good message,” and he didn’t “want to be the guy” to vote against it.

Mike Masnick at Techdirt was one of several commentators to take the Utah legislature to task for its indifference and stupidity at passing “blatantly unconstitutional” legislation.

Masnick writes:

In the key case that made all of the Communications Decency Act (minus Section 230) unconstitutional, Reno v. ACLU, the Supreme Court (with a 9-0 vote) made it quite clear that governments cannot mandate the blocking of pornographic material online. In that case, the Supreme Court went through many reasons why governments don’t get to mandate filters for indecent content.

Nevertheless, the war on porn and the resulting onanism continues in GOP-friendly Utah. Constitutionality be damned!

“Jackbooted Snowflakes”

Along with representations of human sexuality, Republicans lacking a libertarian bent are generally not supportive of anti-authoritarian demonstrations, save when such protests dovetail with their own ideology, as happened at the January 6 MAGA riot in DC.

When it comes to protesters demonstrating against law enforcement’s treatment of minorities, as happened in many U.S. cities in 2020, GOPers do not approve. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the GOP-controlled Kentucky Senate recently passed a bill clamping down on such protests and going so far as to make it a crime to insult police officers.

Senate Bill 211, which recently passed out of the Kentucky Senate 22-11, would make it a misdemeanor if someone “[a]ccosts, insults or challenges a law enforcement officer with offensive or derisive words, or by gestures or other physical contact, that would have a direct tendency to provoke a violent response from the perspective of a reasonable or prudent person.”

The bill would also require those charged with rioting to be held 48 hours before being released, and it would make it a crime for someone to knowingly provide something to another person that could be used as a weapon in a riot, like, say, the water bottles often tossed at police during demonstrations.

Passed by the upper chamber just days before the anniversary of the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor by Louisville police, the legislation was meant as a response to the protests that erupted last year due to Taylor’s death.

Republican State Sen. Danny Carroll, the bill’s sponsor, told The Washington Post that his bill targeted conduct “obviously designed to elicit a response from the officer — something to push them to making a mistake, pushing them to violence.”

He added: “You don’t have a right to accost a police officer.”

The ACLU of Kentucky characterized SB 211 as an attempt to “criminalize speech,” calling it “an extreme bill to stifle dissent.”

Would the courts toss such a law as unconstitutional? Depends on whom you ask.

Reason‘s Jacob Sullum points out that the bill draws upon “the hoary and highly dubious `fighting words’ doctrine” from the 1942 Supreme Court decision in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, in which SCOTUS ruled that “the First Amendment does not protect words that `by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.'”

But Sullum argues that Chaplinsky has been in decline as a precedent for many years. He writes that SCOTUS “has repeatedly narrowed the ‘fighting words’ exception to the First Amendment, and it has never again relied on it to uphold speech restrictions, making the doctrine’s continuing relevance doubtful.”

He adds that “several federal appeals courts have ruled that the First Amendment does not allow police to arrest people for flipping them off,” and he offers examples of various courts ruling in favor of people who have been verbally abusive to cops.

Sullum sees a constitutional challenge as “inevitable” if SB 211 becomes law, and that it “might even give the Supreme Court an opportunity to scrap the ill-considered fighting words doctrine entirely.”

Also in Reason, First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh in his “Volokh Conspiracy” column splits the legal frog hairs, and concludes, “A total ban on all fighting words, whether said to a law enforcement officer or anyone else, would be constitutional.”

Whether or not this ban, which is directed at speech insulting police officers, would survive a court challenge seems an open question to Volokh.

Ultimately, whether or not the bill makes it to the desk of that state’s Democratic governor, it remains another effort to suppress freedom of speech, the kind that flourishes in red states. (Notably, in the case of SB 211, six Republicans bucked the party line and voted against the measure, according to Kentucky Public Radio.)

At Techdirt, Tim Cushing predicted the bill’s demise, either in court or via a gubernatorial veto. He noted the irony that big bad cops need to be defended from people saying mean things to them.

He snarks:

“Behold your jackbooted snowflakes, apparently in need of protection from . . . syllables.”

ICYMI, please see:
Federal Prosecutors “Lied” in Iran Sanctions Case, the Latest Example of Prosecutorial Misconduct at DOJ
and
Judge Brnovich Rejects Defense Subpoena to AG Brnovich in Lacey/Larkin Case

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About Stephen Lemons

Stephen Lemons is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than 20 years of experience covering everything from government corruption to white-supremacist gangs. In addition to Front Page Confidential, his work has appeared in Phoenix New Times, the Los Angeles Times, Salon.com, and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report magazine.

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