(Nov. 17) President-elect Joe Biden risks forfeiting the United States’s global leadership on behalf of free speech.

Biden’s choice of a transition team leader for the U.S. Agency for Global Media, Richard Stengel, former Time managing editor, is an advocate of laws limiting free speech. He has written that “the intellectual underpinning of the First Amendment was engineered for a simpler era” that the world now has moved beyond. That amendment’s broad protection even for unwelcome speech is now, he wrote, “a design flaw” in “an age when everyone has a megaphone.”

All speech is not equal,” he wrote in the Washington Post. “And where truth cannot drive out lies, we must add new guardrails.”

Specifically, Stengel calls for laws penalizing what he calls “hate speech,” which he defines as “speech that deliberately insults people based on religion, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.” As an example, he explained, “Even the most sophisticated Arab diplomats that I dealt with did not understand why the First Amendment allows someone to burn a Koran.”

Set aside the hypocrisy of denizens of the political Left insisting they have a right to burn the American flag, but now wanting to penalize the burning of a Koran. This is dangerous stuff. Who in government, pray tell, gets to decide what sorts of “deliberate insults” are punishable, and how? If I say I find some parts of the Koran offensive, is that hate speech? If you categorize illegal immigrants as “aliens” or if, Lord forbid, you describe homosexuality as a “preference,” rather than whatever the newest politically correct lingo dictates, should you be fined or jailed?

What Stengel advocates isn’t just a slippery slope toward authoritarian thought control; it creates the conditions for a horrid mudslide. Stengel writes that hate speech “diminishes tolerance. It enables discrimination.” Yet, what about tolerance for those who disagree about what constitutes intolerance in the first place?…

[This is important. The full column is here.]

[Further note: The Voice of America and its sibling organizations are really important, and a favorite cause of mine. For earlier pieces related to them, see here, here, and here.]


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