Freedom of Speech

The House Ways and Means Committee voted—on party lines—to move to the full House for debate (and passage) a bill that would delay Treasury’s proposed regulations that would “limit the political activities of so-called social welfare groups.”  These regulations are targeted at 501(c)(4) groups and written in a way that will affect conservative groups more than liberal groups.

That’s not what interests me, though.  What does interest me is a Democratic Party Congressman’s remark decrying the bill.  Congressman Bill Pascrell Jr (D, NJ), who sits on the Ways and Means Committee, said,

It is about disclosure.  Nowhere in the Bill of Rights does it say you have the right to say anything you want—and also not pay any taxes.

There are a couple of things wrong in this short statement….

Actually, there is such a right, and it’s not just in the Bill of Rights, but in the Constitution as a whole.  Our Constitution is a document that explicitly limits the Federal government to a short list of permitted activities and powers with which to carry out those activities: the 18 clauses of Article I, Section 8, and the powers enumerated in Articles II and III are the sum total of what the Federal government can do.  Nowhere in there is there any tying of political speech to the payment of taxes.  An American citizen has no obligation whatsoever to pay a tax to the Federal government in order to receive permission to speak publicly.

Moreover, what rights American citizens do have under this Constitution, especially in relation to the powers of the Federal government, were clearly laid out in The Federalist [emphasis added]

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined.  Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.  The former will be exercised principally on external objects…with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected.  The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people….

and in the 9th and 10th articles of the Bill of Rights which Pascrell seems not to have read:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

and in the 1st article of the apparently unread Bill of Rights, which says this, in part:

Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech….

Notice that: nowhere in there is speech tied to the payment of a tax.  Quite the opposite.  Speech cannot be abridged in any way, and taxes exist primarily to fund the government’s ability to engage in its outward looking authorizations.  In particular, taxes cannot be used to regulate—to abridge—speech.

To say to an organization, “If you want excusal from paying taxes, you must engage primarily in these kinds of activities” is entirely legitimate.  To say to that same organization, however, “If you want excusal from paying taxes, you may not speak of these things which we will identify for you,” is exactly that abridgment.  This is, nakedly, a tax on speech.

Then there’s this: “It is about disclosure.”  No, Congressman, it isn’t.  The Federal government has no legitimate interest in who says what in the political arena.  The articles in The Federalist were, every one, written by Publius, even though the authors in fact were Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.  Anonymity is, in fact, a major protection for a speaker against a government that might presume to object to that speech and seek to act against the speaker—by, for instance, demanding a tax payment as a condition of being allowed to speak.

A propos this whole free speech limitation that the Democrats want to impose on us is this statement with which “Publius” opened The Federalist:

It has been frequently remarked, that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force.

This is a typical Democrat’s lack of understanding of our Constitution.

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