It's been 43 years since student protester Mario Savi ignited the "free speech movement" at Berkeley with his famous address urging students "to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus -- and you've got to make it stop!"
Today, liberals are still trying to stop "the machine," but they're not aiming at the government or university officials. The "machine" they are trying to stop is public opinion that disagrees with theirs. The American left has adopted a totalitarian mindset; they're actively working to stamp out dissent.
Did you know that the same liberal group that helped to get Don Imus fired for his offensive "ho" remark tried to get Rush Limbaugh censored from the Armed Forces Network? Or that this group, Media Matters, which reportedly is backed by anti-American financier George Soros, has declared war on conservative talk radio? Imus, who is not a conservative, was merely the test case.
Let's look at some other ways that liberals are trying to stifle free speech.
- Targeting churches. "Project Fair Play," a program of Barry Lynn's Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, is seeking informants to monitor churches for evidence that pastors are engaging in political speech.
- Reviving the "Fairness Doctrine." Frustrated by the dominance of conservative talk radio, liberals are trying to re-enact an old law that expired in 1986 requiring broadcasters to provide "balance." In 2004, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) tried to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. Now, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) is talking about reviving it. The idea is to force stations to air leftists like Al Franken if they want to continue airing conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin or Sean Hannity.
- Restricting grass-roots lobbying. The Executive Branch Reform Act of 2007 (H.R. 984), sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), requires Executive Branch officials to keep copious records of their contact with public citizens. The danger is that fine-wary officials will simply restrict their dealings with citizens. A similar action aimed at Congress was defeated last year. But these are the malignant stepchildren of the McCain-Feingold Act (2002), which effectively prohibits private entities from advertising on issues within 30 days of an election.
- Sponsoring a federal "hate crimes" bill that will greatly expand the scope of federal power and lay the foundation for "thought crime" and suppressing speech. Similar laws are being wielded in Canada, Great Britain, and Sweden to eliminate public discourse critical of homosexuality. In that spirit, the English House of Lords recently enacted a law prohibiting private, religious schools from teaching the Biblical doctrine that homosexuality, like other out-of-wedlock sex, is a sin. As attorney Scott Lively notes, this repeals the religious freedom guarantee in the Magna Carta (1215), the legal fountainhead of individual rights.
- Using the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) as a liberal mouthpiece, while shutting out conservative voices. PBS abruptly canceled "Islam Versus Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center," a documentary that had been slated as part of the America at a Crossroads series, which began airing in April. Although PBS denies any political motive, film maker Martyn Burke says the network first demanded that he fire conservative co-producer Frank Gaffney and then nixed the segment.
- Insisting that only ideologically predictable scientists are heard on the topic of "man-made" global warming. For example, the Weather Channel features The Climate Code with Dr. Heidi Cullen, who calls for decertifying any meteorologist who won't toe the line on human-caused "climate change."
This short list is by no means exhaustive. Using actual government power or merely a compliant media, liberals are trying to reestablish the kind of information monopoly that they enjoyed before the Internet, talk radio, and other conservative outlets provided alternatives.
In closing, let's revisit Mario Savi's adventures. Most people don't recall that, among other things Savi said that December day in Berkeley, he assailed authorities for not allowing him to show certain "movies" in Sproul Hall.
Liberals have a soft spot for porn, because it helps undermine the moral order that facilitates personal responsibility, and thus, independence from the elites. The problem, Savi said, was "a lot of squeamish moral mothers for a moral America and other people on the outside."
Yes, those people. They need to be dealt with.
Robert Knight is director of the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center in Alexandria, Va. This column is extracted from the Eye on Culture report, "The Liberal Attack on Free Speech" at www.cultureandmediainstitute.org.