Imagine if Republican Gov. Scott Walker spearheaded a gag rule that banned teacher unions from approaching someone to “leaflet” or “educate” them on the public sidewalk within a block of the Square.
And imagine Gov. Walker justified his support for the law based on his belief the Capitol must be “a more comfortable place for people to approach,” and that a gag rule “balances” speech by banning “harassment” (defined as leafleting and education) all the way back to a visitor’s parking space or bus stop.
Madison would be enraged. The ACLU would file lawsuits, and every liberal group in the state would defend freedom of speech. Madison would again issue statements praising anyone who is “peacefully assembled to exercise democracy and First Amendment rights.” Except they would be hypocrites.
Madison is poised to enact this sort of gag rule on the speech of pro-life people who leaflet and educate outside abortion and health facilities. The proposal breezed through two committees last week.
The vanguards of freedom in Madison are not silent on this gag rule. They support it.
The ordinance making its way to the Madison City Council is sponsored by Ald. Lisa Subeck, former executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, and has 14 co-sponsors. Subeck says it “balances” free speech by banning leafleting and education within 8 feet of people all the way back to their “bus stops.”
Wendi Kent, president of the Madison chapter of the National Organization for Women, minimizes the rule’s attack on speech by saying it will merely “make a health care facility a more comfortable place for people to approach. I don’t see how anybody could argue with that.”
And the ACLU has “evolved” when it comes to freedom of speech for people with whom they disagree. Just 15 years ago, the ACLU filed a brief declaring a Colorado law similar to Subeck’s “cannot be sustained” constitutionally because it “focuses directly on expressive activities” of pro-life advocates. But the ACLU recently filed an amicus brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold gag rules and speech bans near abortion facilities (McCullen case).It seems that some have altered a famous freedom war cry: “I disapprove of what you say, and I will put to the death your right to say it.”
Unfortunately, such hypocrisy is typical of many “liberal” activists, who upon attaining power no longer see freedom as being in their best interests. So brace yourself for a flood of editorial euphemisms supporting Madison’s proposed gag rule, insisting free speech needs to be “balanced” (meaning trumped) by the absolute right to “feel comfortable” about abortion.
These same people would never defend a ban on leafleting and education within 8 feet of people walking toward the Square. No advocate of freedom can defend Madison’s pro-abortion gag rule on its own terms.
My group, the Alliance Defending Freedom, is a sponsor of the U.S. Supreme Court challengers in McCullen. We won a lawsuit against a gag rule enacted against pro-lifers in Pittsburgh. We collected almost $500,000 in attorneys fees from UW-Madison after it violated the freedom of speech of the student group Badger Catholic. And we’re on the side of free speech in Madison, whatever contortions the bill’s supporters twist into it to justify the city’s attack on free speech.