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On the Fourth of July, 2023, a landmark ruling was issued from Monroe, Louisiana, that echoed the revolutionary spirit of the Independence Day holiday. Echoing the freedom cry, U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty took a stand to defend one of the most fundamental principles of democracy – the right to free speech.
Just as the signers of the Declaration of Independence cast aside the shackles of tyranny, this injunction officially and definitively condemned the use of state-sponsored censorship that undermined the democratic process and has cost thousands of American lives.
Here’s everything you need to know.
The Case Background
The case, argued in the court of U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty, involved plaintiffs who accused key government agencies and officials of employing state power to silence opposition and alternative viewpoints. These plaintiffs comprised a group known as the “Disinformation Dozen,” which consisted of twelve individuals (including us!) who held divergent views on topics ranging from COVID-19 vaccines to masking and lockdown protocols. These individuals found themselves facing an orchestrated campaign of silencing, allegedly conducted by the state to maintain a particular narrative.
As the pandemic dust settles, it turns out that we were right all along. And yet we still remain censored and deplatformed as those who willfully lied to the American people – at great cost.
The defendants in this case, namely, the Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci, and the Director of the National Institutes of Health Francis Collins, were accused of playing instrumental roles in this orchestrated campaign of silencing.
Not only did the plaintiffs represent a challenge to the prevailing narrative on public health measures, but they also stood in opposition to the mainstream political discourse. Their viewpoints included challenging the validity of the 2020 presidential election and the lab-leak theory of COVID-19, as well as supporting the veracity of the Hunter Biden laptop story.
What stood out in these instances of alleged censorship was the nature of the suppressed speech. All examples or categories of suppressed speech shared a common characteristic: they were conservative in nature. This raised profound questions about the state’s role in shaping and controlling public discourse and the possible violation of one of the cornerstones of democratic societies: free speech.
At the heart of the plaintiffs’ case was an assertion that their First Amendment rights, the bedrock of American democracy, had been violated. Judge Terry A. Doughty’s groundbreaking injunction represented an acknowledgement of the merits of this claim and posed a significant challenge to the encroaching trend of government censorship.
The court’s preliminary injunction not only underscored the severity of the charges but also highlighted the gravity of the potential consequences. The injunction clearly stated that the government’s actions pointed to an alarming pattern of increasing repressive measures, a path that historically leads to an environment of fear and the suppression of opposition. This was aptly described by Judge Doughty’s reference to George Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” – a dystopian agency responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism in Orwell’s novel “1984.”
The evidence presented by the plaintiffs painted a grim picture of widespread censorship, leading to the judge’s decision that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their free speech claim. The injunction granted the plaintiffs a reprieve from ongoing censorship, marking a significant win for free speech advocates. However, the court did not fully accede to all of the plaintiffs’ requests, denying the motion to certify the case as a class-action lawsuit.
Despite this, the crux of the injunction sent a clear message to the government and the public: the silencing of opposition, particularly when it stems from the use of state power, is an affront to the principles of free speech and democratic governance.
A Win for Free Speech
In the words of the plaintiffs themselves, their opposition to various COVID-19 policies, the validity of the 2020 election, and the truth of the Hunter Biden laptop story had been “suppressed”. The judge’s injunction affirmed that the suppression of this spectrum of political speech constituted a concerning act of viewpoint discrimination. To fully appreciate the implications of this injunction, one must understand the constitutional cornerstone it upholds: the First Amendment.
The First Amendment is paramount in its provision for a free exchange of ideas, even and especially those that might be unpopular or controversial. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ famed assertion in Abrams v. United States resonates here: “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.”
As Judge Doughty put it, “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one place to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
The importance of the injunction and the reason it represents a significant win for free speech is precisely because it seeks to protect this competition of ideas, this “marketplace of ideas” as it’s often called. It underscores the principle that the government should not be the arbiter of truth. It asserts that American citizens have the right to hear a variety of perspectives and make up their own minds.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and a polarized political climate, the affirmation of these constitutional principles becomes even more crucial. As the injunction recognizes, in times of “widespread doubt and uncertainty,” the need for open discourse and diverse viewpoints becomes not just desirable, but essential for a functioning democracy.
By indicating that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their free speech claim, this injunction is a significant step forward in a broader fight to defend the First Amendment in an increasingly digital and complex world.
The Impact on Politics and Public Health Response
The implications of state-controlled censorship extend beyond individual rights; they resonate at the core of our political processes and public health responses. By censoring or suppressing one side of the discourse, the government not only curtails the individual’s right to express their ideas but also limits the public’s access to a diverse set of perspectives. This constrained access can inhibit informed decision-making, a key element of a vibrant democracy.
In the case of politics, suppressing voices of dissent can create a misleading picture of public sentiment. As Judge Doughty’s injunction acknowledged, all instances of suppressed speech brought up by the plaintiffs were inherently conservative. The implications of this are two-fold. First, it creates an information vacuum where the views and concerns of a significant portion of the population are marginalized or ignored. Second, it projects a skewed narrative, which can misguide political decisions and create an unjust imbalance of power.
The public health response to COVID-19, too, was impacted significantly by the issue of censorship. Throughout the pandemic, the validity of various scientific hypotheses on topics such as masking, lockdowns, vaccines, and the origin of the virus were hotly debated. Censorship of views opposing the mainstream narrative resulted in a one-sided dialogue, stifling the very nature of scientific exploration, which relies on rigorous debate and the constant testing of hypotheses.
Suppressing dissenting views can also fuel distrust in public health directives. As noted in the injunction, the government’s actions during the pandemic bore a disturbing resemblance to Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth”. A government that decides unilaterally what is truth and what is falsehood fosters suspicion and doubt, which can be detrimental during a public health crisis.
By granting this injunction, Judge Doughty has challenged this approach. This is not only a win for free speech, but it also serves as a reminder of the importance of a nuanced, diverse discourse in navigating complex issues in society.
In the words of Harry S. Truman,
Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one place to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
These words have been echoed in the groundbreaking injunction issued by Judge Doughty on the 4th of July, 2023. In the wake of a pandemic that has rocked the foundations of our society, the affirmation of free speech rights and the decrying of targeted censorship brings us back to our democratic roots.
The right to free speech is enshrined in our constitution as a fundamental right. It allows us to question, to challenge, and to advocate. It is the means by which we can hold power to account and champion the causes we believe in. But when that right is curtailed, and the state controls the narrative, we stand to lose more than just the freedom to speak. We risk losing the essence of our democracy.
In a time when the world is grappling with division, expansion of state power, and the threat of war, the significance of free speech cannot be overstated. The court’s injunction has drawn attention to the troubling trend of state-controlled censorship, which has the potential to skew the political landscape and impact public health responses. By asserting that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their First Amendment claim, the court has sent a clear message in defense of free speech and opposition to viewpoint discrimination.
The issuance of this injunction is a win for free speech advocates. However, it also underscores the ongoing struggle for upholding the principles that our democratic society holds dear. It is a stark reminder that we must remain vigilant against efforts to suppress opposition, control narratives, and impinge on our constitutional rights. As we move forward from this case, we should take to heart the lessons it has taught us about the value of diverse dialogue and the need to protect our fundamental rights, even amidst the most pressing of global crises.
The Fourth of July 2023 will not only be remembered as a day of independence and freedom but also as a day when the essence of these values was reaffirmed in a court of law. As we continue to navigate the complex challenges of our time, we must strive to foster an environment where freedom of speech and open dialogue are not only permitted but actively encouraged. After all, it is through the free exchange of ideas and the active engagement of diverse perspectives that we can best understand, adapt to, and ultimately overcome the challenges we face.
This marks a significant step in our pursuit of true independence from state-controlled censorship, and a reaffirmation of the spirit of liberty that the Fourth of July represents. In the face of challenges and uncertainties, it gives us hope that our democracy can and will remain robust and resilient.
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