Last week, Americans gathered with friends and loved ones to observe the Fourth of July and to celebrate our nation’s hard-won freedom. But we must not forget that the fight for some of our liberties goes on today.
Many of the earliest Americans flocked to our shores to escape oppressive governments that stifled free speech and stymied political participation. Those patriots fought, and many died, so that we could enjoy the right to petition our government without fear, intimidation or undue regulation. They fought so that we would have the right to speak — and even voice controversial opinions — without being tarred and feathered in the public square.
Those are rights that we often take for granted, but they are under threat. There are some who want to silence the voice of our nation’s job creators. They don’t want the business community to have a say in the political process or to voice ideas on policy.
Unelected bureaucrats are issuing regulatory edicts that bypass our elected representatives in Congress. President Barack Obama continues to push the bounds of his executive power, attempting to sidestep the legislative branch when it fails to advance the White House agenda.
The Internal Revenue Service — apparently unchastened by last year’s revelation that it had been singling out and punishing conservative-leaning groups — is today seeking new ways to smother political free speech. With the backing of the administration, the agency is proposing new regulations to drastically curtail the activities of organizations that fall into certain tax categories. Such a proposal would install the IRS as a primary political speech regulator and empower revenue agents to dictate to civic groups what kind of political speech they can engage in, when, and how much.
And in the most overt attempt to trample free speech yet, there’s an outrageous proposal in the Senate to rewrite the First Amendment to give Congress significant control over what constitutes political free speech. Do these lawmakers sincerely believe that they know better how to protect Americans’ rights than the Founding Fathers or the Supreme Court? Or are they playing political games with our Constitution in an election year? Either way, it won’t stand.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will fight these end runs around our democracy and any efforts to silence different voices — even those we may not agree with. In fact, we welcome the views and voices of our opponents. It’s our shared right to debate the issues, to support the candidates we believe in, and to let the public decide based on the merits of our ideas and the strength of our arguments.
— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The opinions expressed are his own.