Posts Tagged ‘First Amendment’

What are they thinking?!

NRA logo

NRA logo

The National Rifle Association (NRA) just cut a deal with the Democrats. This deal will protect the NRA from some obnoxious requirements in a proposed bill, but at the expense of the free-speech rights of many other groups. And, it’s not exactly terrific for the gun lobby, either. Before we get into this latest issue, though, let’s look at some other questionable behavior of late by the stalwart association:

2004: Anxious to pass the Firearms Manufacturers’ Lawsuits Protection bill, the NRA told anti-gun politicians that if they would vote for the Lawsuit Protection bill, the NRA would not oppose re-authorization of the about-to-end Clinton Gun Ban. A concerted effort by other gun-rights groups to expose the deal forced the NRA to back off. Fortunately, the Lawsuit Protection Bill still passed and the Clinton Gun Ban ended.

2007: Following the Virginia Tech massacre, gun-control groups took the opportunity to push their agenda via Rep. Carolyn McCarthy’s (D-NY) NICS Improvement Amendments Act (HR2640) — called by some gun-rights groups the “Veteran’s Disarmament Act”. Regrettably, the NRA caved in to pressure and, along with its oft-nemesis, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, helped the bill to pass.

2009: The NRA was strangely, nearly silent in the confirmation battle over radically anti-gun judge Sonia Sotomayor. The letter to the Senate that finally was sent in July said it was “out of respect for the confirmation process”, as if it was unclear what Sotomayor’s position was on the issue. It certainly was not. So, why the hesitation to take a firm position?

2009: For some bizarre reason, the NRA refused to oppose Eric Holder’s nomination for U.S. Attorney General, even though he would be (and now is) the most anti-gun A.G. in the nation’s history.

This brings us to their most recent decision. First, a little background info….

As you may recall (and as I posted about), the U.S. Supreme Court gave a ruling back in January that struck a blow against McCain-Feingold and essentially “restored the First Amendment right of corporations, unions and nonprofits to make independent campaign expenditures.” Well, Democrats in general were none too happy with this. As John Bresnahan at Politico summed it up, “Democratic leaders fear the Citizens United decision could open the floodgates for corporate money to flow into this year’s midterm elections, which they believe would favor Republican interests.” So, some of them put together a new campaign finance bill that would counter, even neuter, the effects of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) ruling. This new bill (HR5175), dubbed the Disclose Act and sponsored in the House by Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), “would require special-interest groups to disclose their top donors if they choose to run TV ads or send out mass mailings in the final months of an election.”

Well, that doesn’t sound TOO bad, until you realize that the disclosures are not just to be made to the FEC in a timely manner. They have to be done DURING the ads. In any ad they run, they must list the names of multiple donors, thereby reducing the time spent on the actual message. The CEO of a corporate donor is required to personally appear in campaign-related ads. The period of coverage for these special rules is expanded to virtually the entire election year. And a plethora of additional rules have been added, as well. The Disclose Act is, in effect, a direct attack on the First Amendment right of American citizens, via their membership in or support of certain corporations or organizations, to petition Congress and mention legislation or voting records during election season. Some refer to it as the DISCLOSE Act, an acronym that stands for “Democratic Incumbents Seek to Contain Losses by Outlawing Speech in Elections.” (Its sister bill in the Senate is sponsored by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Surprised?)

According to Democrats, the goal is “to expose corporations and unions that create ambiguous front groups to run attack ads during campaigns.” The Republican response? “This bill is both a smoke screen to adopt still more restrictions on political speech in the name of ‘reform’ and an attempt to use Citizens United as a smoke screen to stifle criticism of Democrats in order to help their candidates retain office in the 2010 election.”

Moderate/conservative, pro-gun Democrats refused to back the legislation. In fact, Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC) was one of those that expressed concern about the act “hinder[ing] or penaliz[ing] the efforts of certain long-standing, member-driven organizations who have historically acted in good faith.” Shuler, who supports the NRA, was the first to suggest an exemption for the NRA and other nonprofits. Campaign watchdog groups objected, but a slightly milder special exemption was able to be negotiated. Those organizations which meet certain criteria get a pass — they will not be subject to the Disclosure Act’s reporting and disclosure requirements.

What criteria? Well, the wording for the so-called “manager’s amendment” under consideration specifies that it applies only to those organizations which:

a) have qualified as having tax exempt status under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code for each of the 10 years prior to making a campaign-related disbursement,

b) had 1 million or more dues-paying members in the prior calendar year,

c) had members in each of the 50 states,

d) received no more than 15 percent of their total funding from corporations or labor organizations, and

e) do not use any corporate or union money to pay for their campaign-related expenditures.

In other words, it seems to be tailor-made specifically for the NRA.

patchwork quilt

A "patchwork quilt" of onerous requirements -- get it?

Up until this past week, the NRA opposed the Disclose Act, citing its “byzantine” and “arbitrary patchwork of reporting and disclosure requirements.” Now that they’ve been promised an exemption from these ridiculous demands, the NRA — or, at least, the majority of its leaders — seem ready to roll over and let it pass. (That is, they would neither actively support nor oppose it.) As RedState’s Erick Erickson put it bluntly,

The NRA legislative strategy in the past few years has been to hang everybody else so they can be the last man standing — more interested in maintaining the veneer of bipartisanship than actually standing up for the second amendment.”

Too harsh? I’m not so sure.

In the NRA’s statements on the matter, they explain that:

The most potent defense of the Second Amendment requires the most adamant exercise of the First Amendment. The NRA stands absolutely obligated to its members to ensure maximum access to the First Amendment, in order to protect and preserve the freedom of the Second Amendment. The NRA must preserve its ability to speak. It cannot risk a strategy that would deny its rights, for the Second Amendment cannot be defended without them…. Any efforts to silence the political speech of NRA members will, as has been the case in the past, be met with strong opposition.”

That first sentence, as a standalone, is great and absolutely true. Without the assurance of free speech, one cannot adequately defend and fight for the right to bear arms. The problem appears to be that, in ensuring that they can fulfill their obligation as stated in the latter part of the quote, the NRA seem to think that they are the only group that matters.

Back when the NRA submitted its letter to the Members of Congress re the bill, it realized that “the measure would have undermined or obliterated virtually all of the NRA’s right to free political speech and, therefore, jeopardized the Second Amendment rights of every law-abiding American.” So, assuming that the NRA gets the exemption that they were promised for themselves, what about the National Association of Gun Rights (NAGR), the Gun Owners of America (GOA), the Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (JPFO), or the Oregon Firearms Federation (OFF), to name a few? What about their right to free political speech? They won’t be exempted from the oppressive restrictions of the Disclose Act. They’re just not big enough. Yet, these are all valid, established organizations with loyal members, fighting for the Second Amendment rights of American citizens. (Plus, they have smaller advertising budgets!) Does this seem fair & just to you?

Of course, while the focus here is on the First Amendment rights of the gun lobby, many other groups representing many other causes will be affected, as well, if the Disclose Act is passed. Pro-Life? Yep. Tax Reform? Uh-huh. Tea Party groups? You betcha. More generally speaking, as a letter from the Chamber of Commerce and 100+ other trade associations points out, the bill is “a threat to the First Amendment rights of businesses across the country.”

I understand the NRA’s concerns, but is this really the best option? Do they really think they can trust Reid, Pelosi, et al. to play fair, even if the NRA gets their exemption? This seems like the first(?) step on a slippery slope to me. Perhaps I am somewhat naive, but I think it would be better for everyone if the NRA united with other 1st & 2nd Amendment organizations and lobbyist groups in a coalition to fight against the Disclose Act. These groups may have their differences, but they should be able put up a solid front against something like this, and they would have the support of Republicans, many Democrats, and Independents alike.

The NRA may be the big boy on the block, but it needs to be reminded 1) to stay true to its principles; 2) to listen to its members; 3) that it isn’t the only concerned party involved; and 4) that it may not be big enough or strong enough to win this fight on its own, so it should be careful not to throw its compatriots under the bus.

"Just Say NO!" buttonThe good news is that grassroots opposition to the Disclose Act appears to be reducing the act’s momentum. Plus, this special NRA deal is getting a lot of people up in arms (pardon the pun) on both sides of the aisle. There is even disagreement within NRA leadership. NRA Board Member Cleta Mitchell stated, “This is not just ‘disclosure.’ It is a scheme hatched by political insiders to eradicate disfavored speech. There is no room under the First Amendment for Congress to make deals on political speech, whether with the NRA or anyone else.” And some anti-gun liberals are really giving the Democrats a hard time about the NRA exemption, too, saying it’s “undemocratic and dangerous”, according to Forbes. (Not surprisingly, union leaders are annoyed, too, since they don’t meet the exemption criteria, either.)

On the other hand, according to the NAGR’s Dudley Brown (via email), there may be enough support for the bill by leadership in both parties that they may try to sneak it past those who would oppose it — e.g., by changing the name or number of the bill and/or attaching it as an amendment to another, unrelated piece of legislation. If it gets to the Senate, at least, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is determined to block it, since he is a strong advocate of free speech.

If this whole thing ticks you off, too, give the NRA a call at 1-800-672-3888 and tell them, respectfully, that they must renounce this dangerous compromise, denounce the Disclose Act, and get back to core principles, instead of trying to make sure they look adequately bipartisan. Then, call your Representatives and Senators (202-224-3121) and tell them to drop the anti-free speech Disclose Act (HR5175) or face the consequences come re-election time. If we let the First Amendment be eroded away, what is next? Our Constitutional rights are at stake!

The Center for Competitive Politics has a press release on the issue, along with links to their 2-page overview and 19-page comprehensive analysis of the DISCLOSE Act.

UPDATE: Major development occurred before I had time to finish putting this post together. The Disclose Act was scheduled to be voted on in the House this past Friday. But, after complaints from the conservative Blue Dogs (about opposition from business groups) and the Congressional Black Caucus (about the NRA exemption), Pelosi was forced to pull the bill on Thursday night. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) made the actual announcement. As per Politico’s Bresnahan, “Pelosi’s office declined to comment…. Democratic leadership aides said the vote would be rescheduled until next week [i.e., this week], but it is still unclear whether Pelosi [and Van Hollen] will have enough votes to move forward then.”

Bresnahan also indicated that the exemption has been modified to apply to other groups, namely the AARP and the Humane Society, but nothing else I’ve read mentioned this.

You remember that documentary called “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed“? That was the one that came out a year or two ago, hosted/narrated by Ben Stein, that looked at incidents where educators and scientists were ridiculed, denied tenure, and sometimes fired simply for believing that there might be evidence of design in nature. Well, here’s another one for Stein to investigate….

David Coppedge of JPL

David Coppedge at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

David Coppedge is a high-level IT specialist working at the esteemed Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a NASA lab overseen by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Until recently, Coppedge was a “Team Lead” Systems Administrator on the ambitious & high-profile Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn. Then, Coppedge was demoted for religious proselytizing on the job. But, is that really what he did? Not quite.

It seems that Coppedge is guilty of talking about Intelligent Design and loaning/giving pro-ID DVDs to some of his co-workers. He did not force anyone to talk about ID or to take the DVDs. These co-workers had expressed interest or at least willingly accepted the DVDs. None of these people complained to the higher-ups. While Coppedge is a Christian (who edits a private, pro-ID blog), no proselytizing was actually involved. But, one of the supervisors who was aware of the discussions allegedly confronted Coppedge, angrily asserting that “Intelligent Design is religion”, accused Coppedge of “pushing religion”, and ordered him to stop talking about ID, religion, or politics, (why not sports, too?) or he would be fired. That was back in March of 2009, at which point Coppedge says he complied with the demand. He then got a written warning and was demoted the following month.

Coppedge’s attorney, William Becker, Jr., has now filed a lawsuit on behalf of his client in the California Superior Court in Los Angeles. Caltech, JPL, and three of Coppedge’s superiors (i.e., his direct supervisor, group supervisor, and the Manager of IT Resources for the CIO) are all named in the suit. The allegations include: religious discrimination, harassment and retaliation; violation of free speech rights; and wrongful demotion.

Hold up! “Religious discrimination…”? Didn’t I just say there was no proselytizing going on?

Yes. But, the anti-ID crowd usually conflate or connect modern ID Theory with creationism (e.g., “intelligent design creationism”). Of course, anyone who knows much about Intelligent Design and is intellectually honest knows the difference. While compatible with creationism (which begins with a religious text), ID actually begins with observations about the physical world and what we know about the effects/products of intelligent agents versus those of mere chance & necessity. It is the philosophical (and perhaps theological) implications of recognizing design in nature that upsets certain people, especially committed materialists. So, they rhetorically refer to ID Theory as “creationism in a cheap tuxedo” and then dismiss it as religious nonsense.

Although ID is not religion, and the DVDs in question “make no reference to any religion, scriptural text or religious belief”, what matters is that JPL’s management decided the problem was that Coppedge was “pushing [his] religion”. The problem for them is that it is illegal for an employer to “discriminate against an employee based on what they deem is religion,” as per California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). (Go here for counterpoint arguments to what ScienceBlogger Ed Brayton and ACLU lawyer and Loyola law professor Gary Williams have to say on this.)

According to Casey Luskin, an attorney who works at the Discovery Institute and is a consultant on the suit,

For the offense of offering videos to colleagues, Coppedge faced harassment, an investigation cloaked in secrecy, and a virtual gag order on his discussion of intelligent design. Coppedge was punished even though supervisors admitted never receiving a single complaint regarding his conversations about intelligent design prior to their investigation, and even though other employees were allowed to express diverse ideological opinions, including attacking intelligent design.”

Incidentally, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, “Earlier this month Coppedge claims he met with his supervisors, who told him that the written warning was inappropriate and it would be removed from his file. The suit calls this is [sic] ‘an admission of liability.'” JPL maintains their position that Coppedge’s conduct was inappropriate, that his demotion was justified, and the “gag order” on his speech in the workplace remains in effect.

JPL logo

JPL logo

The other important issue, here, is that of free-speech and First Amendment rights. To some degree, employers have a right to monitor and restrict what their employees talk about while on the job. Issues of profanity, racism, and sexism come to mind. But, did JPL act appropriately in this case? Keep in mind that the lab is federally funded and is the primary planetary spacecraft center for NASA, an agency of the U.S. government’s Executive Branch.

This is just the latest of several such cases where public and private institutions are alleged to have unfairly discriminated against scientists and others for holding and/or promoting views contrary to the Darwinist establishment. In fact, Becker is also representing the American Freedom Alliance in their First Amendment suit against the California Science Center in Los Angeles, which I blogged about at “Shenanigans at the California Science Center“.

You can read the formal complaint in its entirety here. I found the details of the confrontation, secret investigation, and subsequent disciplinary action (Section E, pp. 8-14) particularly interesting and disturbing. I can only imagine the kind of stress, anxiety, humiliation, and fear for his continued employment that Coppedge has been under the past year.

Anyone who thinks that today’s culture of science allows an open discussion of evolution is sorely mistaken,” said Dr. John G. West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture. “When it comes to intelligent design, private and government-run agencies are suppressing free speech.”

What say you?

Oh, in case you were wondering what the offensive DVDs were, check out “Unlocking The Mystery Of Life” and “The Privileged Planet“.

The U.S. Supreme Court today struck a blow for the First Amendment. In a 5-4 ruling, significant parts of the campaign finance law popularly known as McCain-Feingold were judged unconstitutional. In particular, it was affirmed that the government cannot restrict corporate or union spending for or against candidates in Presidential and Congressional elections. The justices also eliminated the part that barred corporations from paying for their own ads out of their general treasuries.

Ruling: Reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded. Austin v. Mich is overruled, as is part of McConnell v. FEC. Stevens, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Breyer dissent. The majority opinion by Justice Kennedy is 57 pages, and Justice Stevens’ partial dissent is 90 pages long.

As Marco Rubio, senatorial candidate from Florida, put it:

Our political system is at its best when candidates, campaigns and voters focus on ideas, issues and principles. Unfortunately, our citizens’ right to free speech and to participate in the political process has been undermined for years by McCain-Feingold and similar laws. The best way to ensure our political system is less reliant on money is not to pass laws which infringe on fundamental rights, but rather to elect leaders who value policy and principles over politics and special interests. Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a victory for those who truly value the freedoms outlined in our First Amendment.

For more info, visit CitizensUnited.