On the Left’s favorite catchphrase “Money Isn’t Speech”

Since the Supreme Court dealt a blow to laws restricting money in politics in Citizens United v FEC and McCutcheon v FEC, it’s easy to spot a liberal conveying her displeasure by regurgitating a trite one-liner:

“Money isn’t speech.”

Well, take that Chief Justice Roberts – your court would certainly have decided otherwise, if only this piece of irrefutable insight were shared with it!

It would be easier to ignore such posturing, if a host of Democrats were not determined in undermining the First Amendment by rallying their base behind this slogan. Not kidding – forty-one Democrat Senators, including Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer, proposed an amendment to the Constitution that will override the free speech protections afforded by the Bill of Rights!†

So, let me explain why the proposition “money isn’t speech,” even though superficially true, does not at all serve the purpose liberals want it to.

Of course, money isn’t speech, in a literal sense. But, that does not mean Congress can limit the money one can spend on furthering her speech while not affecting her right to free speech. Communicating speech may involve distributing pamphlets, books and movies; and writing articles on websites, all of which require money. Speech isn’t sui generis, in this sense. Money is an inextricable part of our lives and plays an important role in helping achieve our interests.

Consider this: money isn’t abortion, either. But you cannot expect liberals to stay mum if Congress were to propose passing laws limiting expenditure on abortion, can you? Would they not go up in arms about the supposed right to abortion being infringed? The plain truth is: it is impossible to limit expenditure on something and not affect the right to it!

Some counter that speech does not necessarily require money – one can, after all, simply choose to talk face-to-face with others. This rejoinder is misleading on multiple levels. First, you can only talk to so many people that way. Yes, you could recruit others to do the job, but guess what: they may ask to be paid! Or, you might find a group of people ready to volunteer for your cause, if there is one. That brings me to the crucial second point: even if there is a way that permits you to disseminate your ideas in a cost-free or less costly manner (in relation to the way you chose), the government has no business mandating that you use it.

It might not appear to be self-evident that this is the case: but, the alternative is to allow the government to regulate which channels of communication people can employ in various situations or limit the reach of your message, a clear affront to the First Amendment’s letter and spirit. The abortion analogy can come handy again: would liberals find it okay if the government decreed that a person must use a cheap healthcare facility, or limited the amount of money she could spend getting abortions? No!

The other common argument – that you can use “free” services like Twitter or YouTube similarly falls under minimal scrutiny. Leave aside, for a minute, the plain but overlooked fact that the continued operation of these services requires private funding: the government simply cannot be trusted with the power to tell which media are “acceptable.” If you want to launch your own website, write your own book, or create your own movie, you should be absolutely free to do so. The availability of “free” services, which by the way are and should be under no obligation to carry your views, is no excuse to restrict you.

The right to free speech is one of the most essential and cherished rights the citizenry has. Any proposal to diminish it under the pretense of “leveling the playing field” or “curtailing money in politics” is an outrage. As always, the solution lies in having more speech, not less.

***

Read Senator Ted Cruz’s insightful op-ed in The Wall Street Journal and Charles Cooke’s piece, both castigating Democrats for their assault on the First Amendment.

The Senate Joint Resolution 19 proposes an amendment to the Constitution that says “Congress shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to Federal elections, including through setting limits on…the amount of funds that may be spent by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates.” A book or movie may endorse a candidate, and thus would be subject to being banned or its distribution curtailed by the government. The Citizens United case was literally about FEC trying to limit the distribution of a movie criticizing Hillary Clinton.

Why Liberals are Wrong on Hobby Lobby and Religious Freedom

The US Supreme Court agreed to review Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, a landmark case that challenges provisions in Obamacare requiring employers to offer insurance coverage for birth control. The owners of Hobby Lobby believe that life begins at conception and have objections to providing coverage for so-called “abortifacients.” Complying with the birth-control mandate would either violate their beliefs or subject them to millions of dollars in fines.

As you might expect, the left is trumping up misleading narratives about the case. For instance:

No, women’s rights are not being “trumped.” The women employees of Hobby Lobby are voluntarily choosing to work there and sign a contract that says that they won’t get certain kinds of health insurance. Contrary to how the left portrays it, this is essential to individual freedom, not antithetical to it. Having true freedom requires that one have the right to bind oneself in various ways by entering into contracts with others or modify one’s behavior in order to gain something which isn’t originally one’s.

We grasp this. For example, all citizens have a right to bear arms. But some public businesses do not allow people who are carrying guns to enter. And, that isn’t thought of as the business owner “imposing his beliefs on others” or “trumping others’ rights.” That’s because we value private ownership. The Second Amendment guarantees our right to carry a handgun, but not the right to enter someone else’s property. The owner of a property or public business is the sole arbiter of who is allowed to enter it. He is free to prevent others from entering it for any reason he deems fit (except some.)

The same rationale applies to free speech issues. Recently, A&E fired Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson for his comments about gay rights in the GQ magazine. Did A&E’s CEO trump Phil’s right to free speech? Absolutely not. Phil has a right to free speech, but not one to be perpetually employed by a private company. Freedom entails Phil’s right to say whatever he wants, and also his employer’s right to terminate him when he pleases to (as long as he does not violate the contract he is bound by.)

Similarly, when Hobby Lobby offers a job on some terms, it is not violating anyone’s “right” to a job at some different terms, the simple reason being that no one is entitled to a job there. If someone does not like the terms, he should not accept them and work somewhere else! The government should not coerce someone to employ others at terms that he does not accept. To let it do so violates a fundamental freedom of individuals and corporations: the freedom of contract.

Some warn that letting Hobby Lobby refrain from offering birth control insurance will result in a slippery slope. What if some employer does not want to offer insurance for cancer? The answer’s simple: almost no one would want to work for such an employer. Consumers might also choose to boycott it. Thus, the employer would be forced to re-evaluate his decision. If, however, he has a strong objection with offering cancer insurance, he can continue doing so and operate his not-so-stellar business. Thus, everyone ends up being free.

Still others contend that arming the government with a power to govern the terms of contracts between citizens is good for utilitarian reasons — “let the government prohibit terms that we don’t like and we would all be better off.” But, that’s a mistaken view of morality. People have varying conceptions of what’s good for them based on their moral beliefs. They should be allowed to live their lives according to their own values, and not be forced to adhere to the ones that the government decides to be “right.” And, even if exceptions are carved out to this general rule (like minimum wage requirements), that is what they should remain — exceptions, not the norm.

As I see it, at stake in this case is not just contraception coverage, but whether individuals can operate a business without being required to violate their conscience. I hope the Supreme Court rules in favor of Hobby Lobby.

Note: I make a moral argument in this post, instead of presenting a legal case that takes complications of US law into account. For extended legal arguments, refer amicus curiae briefs filed by various organizations, particularly the one by Cato Institute. 

*****

Update 1: The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on March 25. Here’s the transcript. According to a POLITICO report, the Justices were skeptical of White House’s position!

Update 2: The Supreme Court decided the case (now called Burwell v Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.) 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby! Justice Alito, in the majority opinion, wrote that

1. RFRA applies to closely-held for-profit corporations

2. HHS’ contraception mandate “substantially burdens” the exercise of religion

3. Even if it is assumed that the government has a compelling interest in offering cost-free access to contraception, it has failed to show that it is using the “least restrictive means” of furthering that interest.

Yay!