Archives for category: Freedom of Speech

The big battle this coming year in the Texas Legislature is about whether public agencies will be allowed to lobby for their interests. No one argues that private interests should be banned from advocating for what they want. Only public agencies—like public schools—would be banned because they use public money.

You can see where this is going. Supporters of public institutions would be gagged and censored, but promoters of privatization would be free to wine and dine legislators.

The Dallas Morning News tells both sides of the story here.

The issue, which has been dubbed “taxpayer-funded lobbying” by supporters and “community censorship” by its detractors, is a major divider between traditional Republicans — particularly those in rural areas who support public schools and their local county governments — and hard-line conservatives who see it as wasteful spending by local officials.

Local officials and the organizations that represent them — like the Texas Association for Counties, the Texas Municipal League and the Texas Association of School Boards — say such a lobbying ban would hurt local jurisdictions and make it more expensive for them to advocate for their constituents. They say the ban is nothing more than an effort to silence the voices of local officials.

Democrats and some Republicans banded together to block the bill last year. That vote resulted in House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and one of his top lieutenants, Rep. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock, meeting with conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan to target several fellow Republicans who voted against the bill.

The scandal forced Bonnen into early retirement and Burrows had to resign as chairman of the House Republican Caucus. Nonetheless, the bill’s backers say it will return next session.

Arch conservatives claim that cities, counties, public schools, and other public agencies should not be allowed to use taxpayer money to defend the public interest. Profiteers, buccaneers, entrepreneurs, and raiders of the public treasury would be allowed to lobby with no restraints.

Just one more loathsome effort to cripple the public interest by Governor Abbott and his allies.

Hong Kong was a British colony for a century and a half. Under British rule, the people of Hong Kong enjoyed democratic freedoms. On July 1, 1997, the British relinquished control and Hong Kong became part of China as a special administrative region. The Chinese government promised to maintain “one country, two systems.” Over the years the Chinese government has asserted tighter control, inspiring rebellions among the people of Hong Kong, who resisted absorption into the government of the Mainland. Twenty-three years after the removal of British rule, mainland China is clamping down, hard, to stamp out freedom of speech, freedom of thought, even freedom to teach.

This article in the Los Angeles Times describes the government’s tightening of control over teachers and textbooks. Teachers who dare to speak out have been purged.

One of the greatest threats to freedom in Hong Kong is China’s intensifying pressure on schools over what to put in the minds of students. Textbooks are being rewritten, teachers are being purged and history is being erased under a new national security law to bring this once freewheeling city more firmly into China’s grip…

With China’s tightening control over Hong Kong, including passage of a new national security law, the territory’s pro-democracy activists, politicians, journalists and others are facing a Communist Party determined to crush dissent. Perhaps the greatest threat from this new purge — one that will affect generations to come — is the increasing pressure on schools and teachers over what to put in the minds of students. Both activists and bureaucrats know that a nation’s soul is distilled in the classroom; history can be erased with the silencing of teachers and rewriting of textbooks.

A Hong Kong art teacher who calls himself Vawongsir expresses his thoughts through pro-democracy doodles.
A Hong Kong art teacher going by the name Vawongsir expresses his thoughts through pro-democracy doodles, which he shares online anonymously. He lost his teaching job after a complaint was made to the authorities.(Chan Long Hei / For The Times)
“They are turning education into a tool for controlling thought in Hong Kong,” said Ip Kin-yuen, a pro-democracy lawmaker representing the education sector who is vice president of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union. “There are a lot of cases of teachers being wronged, facing exaggerated accusations. I would describe it as political persecution.”

Hong Kong is being remade before the world. Chinese leader Xi Jinping is capitalizing on his country’s economic power and the planet’s preoccupation with the coronavirus to rein in Hong Kong’s democratic ambitions. Xi wants to subsume this defiant territory into his vision of national unity, even as China faces diplomatic fallout, most notably from the Trump administration, which has drawn closer to a new Cold War with Beijing in a fraught time of high-tech surveillance, shifting supply chains and America’s fallen stature of a global leader.

Veterans of the political struggles of the 1960s explain in this open letter published in The Nation why they will vote for Joe Biden. In my view, anyone who opposes racism, fascism, and the dominance of the fanatical religious right should vote for Biden.

The letter begins:

On April 13, 2020, Senator Bernie Sanders urged his supporters to vote for the presumptive Democratic nominee, former vice president Joe Biden. Writing as founders and veterans of the leading New Left organization of the 1960s, Students for a Democratic Society, we welcome Bernie’s wise choice—but we are gravely concerned that some of his supporters, including the leadership of Democratic Socialists of America, refuse to support Biden, whom they see as a representative of Wall Street capital. Some of us are DSA members, but do not believe their position is consistent with a long-range vision of democracy, justice, and human survival.

Now it is time for all those who yearn for a more equal and just social order to face facts. All of us have charged for years that Trump is the leader of an authoritarian party that aims for absolute power; rejects climate science; embraces racism, sexism, homophobia, and violence; holds the democratic process in contempt; bids to take over the entire federal judiciary; represses voting rights; and violates plain human decency on many fronts. These are the grounds for our solemn determination: A common effort to unseat him is our high moral and political responsibility.

In our time, we fought—for a time successfully—against the sectarian politics of the Cold War. We were mindful then of the cataclysm that befell German democracy when socialists and communists fought each other—to death—as Hitler snuck by and then murdered them all.

Now we fear that some on the left cannot see the difference between a capitalist democrat and a protofascist. We hope none of us learn this difference from jail cells.

We have dedicated much of our lives to the fight to extend democracy to more people, more institutions, more places. We continue this work in diverse ways motivated now as then by a spirit of community and solidarity. But now the very existence of American democracy is in jeopardy.

Some of us think “endorsing” Joe Biden is a step too far; but we who now write this open letter all know that we must work hard to elect him. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment.

Open the link and read the rest of the letter.

I note that my good friend Mike Klonsky, who was National Secretary of SDS in 1968, decided not to sign the letter. You can read his reasons here, but he too will vote for Biden, because, as he writes:

In my view, Trump and Trumpism represent the most reactionary political force in the world today and the most immediate and serious threat to peace and human freedom in the post-WWII era.

Tactically, I’m taking my cues mainly from leading progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders who, to one degree or another, are supporting Biden’s election as a way of defeating Trump and pushing forward our progressive agenda.

Masha Gessen, a Russian emigre and journalist, always has interesting commentaries on U.S. politics.

In this New Yorker article, she writes about Mark Zuckerberg and his flawed interpretation of the First Amendment.

In the course of the article, she reveals a startling fact. Zuckerberg is advising Mayor Pete.

Gessen writes:

What is the First Amendment for? I ask my students this every year. Every year, several people quickly respond that the First Amendment guarantees Americans the right to speak without restriction. True, I say, but what is it for? It’s so that Congress doesn’t pass a law that would limit the right to free speech, someone often says. Another might add that, in fact, the government does place some limits on free speech—you can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theatre, or say certain words on broadcast television and radio. I ask the question a third time: What is the First Amendment for? There is a pause as students realize that I am asking them to shift their frame of reference. Then someone says that the First Amendment is for democracy, for the plurality of opinions in the national conversation.

My students are undergraduates, some of whom will become journalists. Before they leave the confines of their small liberal-arts college, they will develop a more complicated view of politics and the media than the one they started with. The adult world they are entering, however, generally sticks to an elemental level of discourse. Last week, for example, the head of the country’s largest media company, Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook, gave a nearly forty-minute lecturein which he reiterated that the right to free speech was invented so that it wouldn’t be restricted. In Zuckerberg’s narrative, as my colleague Andrew Marantz has written, freedom of speech, guaranteed by technological progress, is the beginning and the end of the conversation; this narrative willfully leaves out the damage that technological progress—and unchallenged freedom of all speech—can inflict. But the problem isn’t just Zuckerberg; more precisely, Zuckerberg is symptomatic of our collective refusal to think about speech and the media in complicated ways.

People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world,” Zuckerberg said in his address. “It’s a fifth estate, alongside the other power structures in our society.” Zuckerberg was appropriating a countercultural term: beginning in the nineteen-sixties, “the fifth estate” referred to alternative media in the United States. Now the head of a new-media monopoly was using the term to differentiate Facebook from the news media, presumably to bolster his argument that Facebook should not be held to the same standards of civic responsibility to which we hold the fourth estate.

This strategy of claiming not to be the media has worked well for Facebook. On Monday, when Bloomberg broke the news that Zuckerberg has advised the Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg on campaign hires, the story called Zuckerberg “one of tech’s most powerful executives.” CNN referred to him and his wife, Priscilla Chan, as “two of America’s most influential businesspeople and philanthropists.” Vox’s Recode vertical calledhim “the world’s third-richest person” and observed that he had become so toxic that “accepting a political donation from Mark Zuckerberg in 2020 is nowhere close to worth the money.” (The Times appears not to have covered the story for now.) Any one of these frames makes for an important and troubling story: a Presidential campaign in bed with a major tech corporation, influenced by and possibly intertwined with one of the country’s richest men—that is bad. It’s worse when one recalls Buttigieg’s attempts to go after Elizabeth Warren during last week’s Democratic debate. Warren has called for breaking up Facebook’s social-media monopoly, and Zuckerberg has referred to Warren as an “existential” threat to the company. Now imagine if it were the head of ABC or CNN or the New York Times Company who had served as an informal hiring consultant to a Presidential candidate. It would almost certainly be a bigger story and more broadly perceived as troublesome. Most of us still believe that the media are an essential component of democracy, and that a media outlet that is partisan or committed to a single candidate, but not in a transparent way, is a bad democratic actor.

Sarah Sparks writes in Edweek about a curriculum company that is suing a parent in Wake County, North Carolina, for criticizing its math program. The company says the parent is defaming its product. The parent’s lawyer says the company is attacking the parent’s First Amendment rights.

As the story notes, this is a SLAPP suit, a suit meant to silence public criticism. The last time I encountered this sort of thing was when a charter company filed a suit against a school board member in California for negative criticism. The ACLU came to her defense. It should defend this parent too, who is using his Constitutional right to disagree with a program adopted by his district.

A group of families in Wake County, N.C., have pushed for months to get the district to stop using a controversial new curriculum. Now the company behind the curriculum is suing one of the most vocal parents for defamation.

It’s a surprising move that some say could have broad implications for parent advocacy around curriculum and instruction. A win by the company “would certainly cast a shadow on the idea that parents have a right to participate in their own children’s education, to criticize schools for buying particular textbooks, to voice their concerns about instruction and curriculum,” said Tom Loveless, an education researcher formerly at the Brookings Institution, who is not involved in the case.

The Mathematics Vision Project, a nonprofit provider of open source math curricula, filed a complaint this summer against Blain Dillard, a parent in the Wake County public school system. MVP has accused Dillard, an outspoken opponent of the math program, of libel, slander, and “tortious interference with business relations.”

The company alleges that Dillard has launched “a crusade against MVP” through his online criticism of the curriculum and advocacy with school officials and employees.

In a written statement to Education Week, Jeffrey Hunt, Dillard’s lawyer, wrote that the lawsuit “has no legal merit.”

“It is alarming that a parent would be sued for defamation for expressing opinions and making truthful statements about his son’s high school math curriculum,” Hunt said. “The lawsuit appears to be an attempt to silence Mr. Dillard and other critics of MVP, and to chill their First Amendment rights to speak about MVP’s services.”

The district is entering its third year using the MVP curriculum, which received a favorable evaluation from the curriculum reviewer EdReports. The open source curriculum emphasizes problem-solving and collaboration—students learn by working through problems, and teachers are expected to act as facilitators.

For months now, parents have spoken out against lessons that they say are confusing and poorly structured, lodging complaints with the district and making statements at school board meetings. Parents said their children weren’t getting enough direct instruction and were encouraged to rely on their classmates for help. As a result, they said, students who used to get As and Bs were now getting Cs and Ds, which would have long-lasting effects on their grade point averages and college prospects.

Barbara Kuehl, an author and consultant at MVP, said that the organization’s materials encourage a variety of methods. “Our curriculum not only supports well-timed direct instruction, we advocate for it,” she said. Kuehl declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing pending litigation.

Pushback from parents over a new curriculum, and particularly a discovery-based program, is nothing new, said Loveless.

“There have been all kinds of programs that have been oriented around that philosophy, and they have been quite controversial,” Loveless said.

What is new? A curriculum provider suing parents over such complaints.




Teresa Hanafin writes the Boston Globe’s Daily “Fast Forward” to start each day.

Today she wrote:

Trump is making America hate again.

At his North Carolina campaign rally last night, Trump lashed out at Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar — a US citizen who was a refugee from Somalia as a child. His supporters, predominantly white, started chanting and shouting, “SEND HER BACK!” Kaitlan Collins of CNN reported that Trump “paused a moment to let that chant grow some momentum.”

This is really ugly, folks.

As Tim Miller, former aide to Jeb Bush,tweeted: “Imagine how this video of the President leading a white mob in a ‘Send Her Back’ chant targeting a black refugee is going to look in your kids’ high school government/history classes.”

Former Obama speechwriter (and Mass. native) Jon Favreau wrote, “The crowd at Trump’s rally chanting “send her back” after the President viciously and dishonestly attacked Ilhan Omar is one of the most chilling and horrifying things I’ve ever seen in politics.”

Note the word “dishonestly.” It refers to the lies Trump told about Omar during his speech, lies that are widely circulating on the right. For example, Omar never said, “You say ‘al-Qaida,’ it makes you proud.” But this is Trumpville, where the truth goes to die.

Get ready for a 2020 campaign that is even more hate-filled and divisive than what Trump spewed in 2016.

Omar responded on Twitter with an excerpt from Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” poem:

   You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Is it just me or will Trump’s crowd soon start chanting: “Sig Heil!”????

Valerie Strauss wrote a well-documented and alarming story about a high school valedictorian who was prevented from giving the graduation speech because school officials did not like certain words and topics. When the affair became public, the school board and superintendent apologized and invited the graduate to deliver her speech to the school board, promising to tape it and put it on their website. Sadly, the student lost the opportunity for which she had prepared: the chance to speak to her classmates at graduation. As you will see, Kriya Naidu did not cry “fire” in a crowded theatre. She did not utter hate speech. What she had to say was inoffensive to everyone except those who censored her. What was offensive? Talking about America as a haven for immigrants? As a land of opportunity?

Strauss writes:

Kriya Naidu is the valedictorian at University High School in Orange County, Fla. — but unlike many other students who graduate at the top of their class, she was not permitted to deliver her speech at commencement. School officials didn’t like parts of it.

First, she told WOFL-TV in Orlando, she was asked to edit out several sentences, including a line by rapper Cardi B about overcoming adversity. Then, she said, a school official asked her to prerecord the speech for airing at the graduation, apparently so it could be checked to make sure she hadn’t uttered the edited comments.

She did not prerecord the speech — which focuses on resilience and the fortitude of immigrants — and she was not allowed to give the speech live at the ceremony…

When the story became public, the school system issued an apology to Naidu and her family, according to Lorena Arias, assistant director of media relations for Orange County Public Schools. She said in an email:

“The district has apologized to the Naidu family. The School Board and Superintendent were not aware of the controversy prior to University High School’s graduation ceremony. Kriya has been invited to give her speech at the next school board meeting and to have it professionally recorded and posted to the district’s website and shared on social media platforms. The district is reviewing its commencement practices for improvements.”

In a letter to Naidu, district Superintendent Barbara Jenkins apologized for “unfortunate mistakes” made….

What were the sentences that were deemed offensive?

And I hope you remember, like the rapper and philosopher Cardi B says, “Knock me down nine times but I get up 10.”

I’m sure that all of us in our past four years of high school — while making memories of deans kissing pigs, racoons in vending machines, and toilet fires in the 25 building — have been knocked down.

The problem with that line, the graduating senior told the television station, was the reference to a toilet fire…

In her speech, Naidu spoke about how her family came to the United States from South Africa and their determination to succeed. In an unedited version of the speech, she wrote:

You see, in 1995, my parents emigrated from South Africa and moved here, to America, with only $500 to their name. And with all the opportunities that this country has afforded them, they were able to build a life for themselves and eventually myself and my sisters. And thanks to that, I have made it here today.

But they faced their fair share of challenges. Prejudice, difficulty securing jobs, pay parity and much more. But every time they were knocked down they got back up. Their success is an example of what immigrants, people of color and everyone can achieve with hard work even when they find themselves in a country that seems to work against them. As Lin-Manuel Miranda said, “Immigrants, we get the job done.”

But my parents and I aren’t the only immigrants: Most everyone here in this arena today, if not an immigrant themselves, is descended from someone who moved to America with a dream in their hearts as well.

Asked about what happened with the speech, Carcara, the principal, said in an email:

Thank you for contacting me.

University High School is proud of its Class of 2019 and its valedictorian who challenged themselves throughout their high school years. Valedictorians are role models to their peers and their speech is a moment of inspiration and celebration. School administrators worked closely with the valedictorian providing her guidance after reviewing her speech. She was then given the opportunity to pre-record her speech as is the practice in some of our high schools. We were disappointed that she chose not to do so. We wish her and the Class of 2019 much success in their future.

The school wanted her to prerecord her speech to make sure she did not utter the sentences that it wanted her to delete. She did not prerecord her speech.




Trump told the Conservative Political Action Committee that he would issue an e ecutive order barring federal funding for research at universities that restrict “free speech.”

Apparently he was thinking of campuses where student protestors have barred hate speech from far-right provocateurs. Speakers who advocate racial hatred and bigotry have not found a hearty welcome on such campuses. Trump promises to intervene.

“A new executive order from the White House will aim to make federal research funding for colleges and universities contingent on their support for “free speech,” President Trump said Saturday.

The announcement, during Trump’s address to the Conservative Political Action Conference, appeared to target complaints by some university critics that institutions of higher education stifle right-wing viewpoints.

“If they want our dollars, and we give it to them by the billions, they’ve got to allow people like Hayden and many great young people, and old people, to speak,” Trump said, bringing onstage a young conservative, Hayden Williams, who was physically attacked last month while tabling for a conservative organization at the University of California at Berkeley…

”The executive order, Trump said, would “require colleges to support free speech if they want federal research” money. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump told the CPAC crowd, meeting at National Harbor, Md., that he planned to sign the order “very soon” but did not provide specifics or say whether a draft has already been prepared.

The federal government distributes more than $26 billion a year to colleges and universities for research purposes, according to the National Science Foundation. The vast majority of that money is assigned to projects for the Pentagon, NASA, and the departments of Agriculture, Energy, and Health and Human Services…

”Somebody would have to decide which universities were not supporting free speech on campus,” said Catherine Ross, a professor in constitutional law at George Washington University. “Some group of Washington civil servants — or maybe even worse, political appointees — would be looking at charges of speech discrimination at various colleges and universities, and labeling them as either acceptable in terms of free speech or not acceptable. And that … is a government interference in speech.”

“What’s more, she added, Trump’s policy could inadvertently disqualify many religious academic institutions from receiving federal research funding, to the extent that their religious beliefs prohibit certain views or speakers on campus.”


President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his State of the Union address on January 11, 1944.

Seventy-five years ago today.

He included what was then called the “Economic Bill of Rights.”

It’s good to remember a time long ago when we had a national leader with a vision of a just and fair society, a vision that we remain very far from achieving. It’s good to remember a time when we had a national leader who was intelligent and articulate, surrounded by others who cared deeply about social and economic progress. It’s good to remember a time long ago when America meant something other than rampant individualism, greed, me-first, me-only, competition, and gun violence. It’s good to remember when America was motivated by ideals of the common good and the just and decent society. That was the America of my childhood. I miss it. I hope it can be recaptured.

FDR said:

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.”[3] People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

Peter Greene believes that Arizona’s proposed gag law is part of a national reaction to teacher activism. If you can’t beat ’em, silence them, is the mantra.

He traces the trend towards silencing teachers to legislators in Pennsylvania and Virgina, and then back to fringe-right agitator David Horowitz and rightwing corporate bill-mill ALEC.

Greene writes:

All of the rules make sense when one considers the source– a racist authoritarian xenophobic alt-right wingnut. This is not just about shutting down teachers (it really is bigger than being anti-#RedforEd) but about making sure that teachers cannot interfere with the imposition of a white supremacist alt-right dreamland.

The second thing we can say with certainty about this proposal is that Rep. Finchem [of Arizona] did not whip it up himself after some conversations with concerned parents. HB 2002 is part of a wider attempt to shut teachers up so that they can’t exercise First Amendment rights– particularly not in ways that would contradict white nationalists .

It’s a bill that deserves to die. And Rep. Finchem is a man who deserves some extra attention, to see just who feeds him these kinds of anti-American anti-freedom ideas for bills.

It is a fascinating and ugly trail and worth your while to follow it to see where it leads.

Don’t forget the First Amendment. It is not fake. It is real.