Revisiting Cicero: Free Speech and Equal Rights for All Citizens

Member of Congress Barbara Comstock’s Northern Virginia district, once a ‘Republican’ suburb of Washington DC, supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Her 10th congressional district is now on a list of the top 25 Arab American districts whose numbers “could more than double” by the 2020 Census, according to a recent article in SFPPR News & Analysis, “The Emerging Arab Vote in Congressional Districts.” With only five of these 25 congressional districts represented by Republicans, three of which are targeted by national Democrats in 2018, redistricting in 2022 looms large on the political horizon for many Members of Congress, including Comstock, with growing Muslim voter populations.

By Monica Morrill l September 8, 2017

Comstock at the ADAMS Center and with Imam Mohamed Magid former head of ISNA, the unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation trial

It is the deliberate and thoughtful aim of the 18th century architects of the U.S. Constitution that the First Amendment is at the pinnacle, the idea to safeguard the freedom of speech. The ‘free market of ideas’ was necessary to protect and preserve a fledgling Republic. If the notion of liberty were an empire, the crown jewels would be free speech.

Free speech has been discussed extensively over the past year. Unfortunately, some in the U.S. Congress need a lesson in the basics of constitutional law, a Constitution that they have solemnly sworn to uphold. Cicero, the Roman politician, statesman and lawyer, reflected on the legal rights of a free people in “De Republica” declaring, “For, while it is undesirable to equalize wealth, and everyone cannot have the same talents, legal rights at least should be equal among citizens of the same commonwealth” (I.xxxii.49). While Cicero acknowledges the diversity of citizens’ abilities, he still believes they should all be equal under the law of a Republic.

But Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein of California have acted defiantly against Cicero’s wisdom, which was among the founders’ preeminent concerns while securing freedoms for a newly born nation. Both Democrat Senators, along with Republicans Marco Rubio and Susan Collins, have contradicted the philosophy of the great Senator Cicero of the Roman Republic. The U.S. Senate, nearly five months ago in April, passed a resolution to protect free speech for some but not for all citizens in S.Res. 118. It is now on the doorstep of the House of Representatives sponsored by another Republican, Barbara Comstock, as H.Res 257. The staff of Senator Marco Rubio, a co-sponsor, confirmed that S.Res. 118 passed unanimously in the Senate. Now, the House equivalent, H.Res. 257, is stuck in the Subcommittee on “Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.”

Cicero’s words have persistently echoed in the halls of Republics over the centuries, encouraging the equal rights for citizens under the law, including the freedom of speech.

However, Harris, the freshman California Senator and her fellow co-sponsors are seeking to criminalize the freedom of speech as initially emphasized by the Gatestone Institute. The Senate’s unanimity in the passage of S.Res. 118 was allegedly to protect minority groups such as Muslims, Hindus, and Jews. However, by doing so, it is creating an inequality with larger groups such as Christians. S.Res. 118 is a discriminatory resolution that seeks to segregate religious and other groups, giving special rights to some but not to all.

Legal confusion and Christian exclusion

A similar law has already passed in Canadian Parliament and now, simply for writing something disagreeable on the Internet about Muslims, a Canadian man Kevin Johnston is facing up to two years in prison.

The question then becomes, who defines “hate speech” if it is to be forbidden? Laws that push out free speech, regardless of agreement, do not promote understanding in debate but rather confusion. An attempt to muzzle any speech is a cowardly act of avoiding critical thinking and debate, not to mention it’s contradicting the First Amendment. S.Res. 118 gives minority groups ammunition to suppress the natural rights of free speech of the other. Brigette Gabriel shares the shocking details in her Breitbart article, Betrayal: Republicans Push Anti-Free Speech Bill Written by Islamic Terror-Linked Groups. So, it appears that left-leaning Muslim organizations such as EMGAGE, Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), and the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center (ADAMS Center) will likely be at the helm defining what hate speech is intolerable for some against others.

In a move that could be described as ironic and hypocritical, about one month after S.Res. 118 passed unanimously in the Senate, MPAC voiced opposition to counter President Trump’s executive order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty for all by calling it “Partisan Politics Under the Guise of Religious Liberty.”

EMGAGE declares “Mission Accomplished” during Muslim Hill Day to thank Rep. Comstock for her support of H.Res. 257, anti-hate crime legislation

Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center, points out that from 1999 to 2010, the Muslim organizations in the United Nations repeatedly sponsored non-binding resolutions to prohibit the defamation or blasphemy of religions as a way to stop any criticism of Islam. However, as time went on, these resolutions were opposed by an increasing number of Western governments on the grounds that they suppressed freedom of speech. In 2015, Muslims attempted to push through H.Res. 569, which was similar to the anti-blasphemy resolutions in the United Nations intended to prohibit any criticism of Islam. H.Res. 569, “Condemning violence, bigotry, and hateful rhetoric towards Muslims in the United States,” by its terms protected only Muslims. No other minority group was mentioned. H.Res. 569 did not pass.

Mr. Thompson highlights that “H.Res. 569, S.Res. 118, and H.Res. 257, offer favored treatment to the enumerated religions to the exclusion of Christianity. The U.S. Senate through S.Res. 118 basically replaced the First Amendment guarantee of free speech with Sharia law, which prohibits any criticism or defamation of Islam. Under the guise of prohibiting hate crimes, they [U.S. Senators] are actually prohibiting free speech guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.”

Mr. Thompson continues, “A fundamental purpose of the First Amendment is to protect free speech regardless of how offensive or disagreeable we may find it. But the U.S. Senate believes it can ignore that grand purpose if it is pursuing ‘hate crimes.’ We must be careful to define what we mean when talking about ‘hate crimes.’ No matter how odious, hate thought and hate speech, is generally constitutionally protected. What is not protected is criminal conduct motivated by animus or bias against a protected class of persons based on race, religion, nationality, gender, etc. We already have several federal laws and hundreds of state laws already on the books that prohibit and enhance sentences where criminal conduct such as assaults, murders, property damage, are motivated by an enumerated animus. So, in realty, there is no need for these resolutions.

Why did this resolution even come to be earlier this year? The bills [S.Res. 118 and H.Res. 257] were drafted by Muslim organizations: The Muslim Public Affairs Counsel, and EMGAGE. If you start connecting the dots, I believe you will come to the conclusion that the purpose of these organizations is to replace the constitutional right to free speech with Sharia law, prohibits defamation and blasphemy against Islam. These organizations are cleverly criminalizing speech. Read very carefully what the Senate Resolution says. ‘Condemning hate crime and any other form of racism, religious or ethnic bias … (emphasis added)’ The phrase, ‘Any other form,’ undoubtedly refers to speech when read in the context of the resolution.”

In subparagraph 6 of S.Res. 118 it “encourages the development of an interagency task force led by the Attorney General to collaborate on the development of effective strategies and efforts to detect and deter hate crime in order to protect minority communities;” What is curious is the implementation of the Senate and House “Whereas…” clauses.

Arrests, prosecution, and free speech in higher education

Canada’s M-103 and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission for instance, threaten the freedom of expression further. In some cases, Christians have been arrested because they’ve read scriptures in the Bible where homosexuality is condemned as a sin, and is deemed to be hate speech or a form of agitation.

Moreover, in addition to places of worship and spaces of evangelizing, another venue that comes to mind that has been a crucible for free speech is college campuses. UC Berkeley, whose motto is “Let there be light” where the Free Speech Movement was reignited in the 1960s, was the same place where in February this year the notion of free speech imploded when “antifa” violence was given extra freedom and media attention while they protested the invited speaker Milo Yiannopoulos. Last month, “antifa” agitators were at UC Berkeley again violently attacking peaceful protestors. Tucker Carlson now calls “antifa” the de facto militant wing of Democrats.

So, why is it crucial for free speech to flourish in higher education? On July 20th The Federalist Society posted a brief video in which student members and professors opine why free speech matters and whether it must thrive on college campuses. Citizens exercising their First Amendment rights are vital to preparing the future generation of leaders, but also to refine their own ideas and thoughts of the way their society ought to be. It seems people on college campuses might be studying Cicero’s philosophies more than Members of Congress.

Thus far in the United States saying “I hate” something is not a crime, yet in H.Res. 257 put forward by Barbara Comstock, “Condemning hate crime and any other form of racism, religious or ethnic bias, discrimination, incitement to violence, or animus targeting a minority in the United States,” criminalizes free speech.

Comstock’s Northern Virginia district, once a ‘Republican’ suburb of Washington DC, supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Her 10th congressional district is now on a list of the top 25 Arab American districts whose numbers “could more than double” by the 2020 Census, according to a recent article in SFPPR News & Analysis, “The Emerging Arab Vote in Congressional Districts.” With only five of these 25 congressional districts represented by Republicans, three of which are targeted by national Democrats in 2018, redistricting in 2022 looms large on the political horizon for many Members of Congress, including Comstock, with growing Muslim voter populations. Matthew 26:15 comes to mind when Christians wonder how many pieces of silver she is willing to accept to deliver the Constitution over to the Mohammedans, under the supremacy of Sharia law.

For Mr. Thompson, “H.Res. 257 is a particularly ominous provision that would chill free speech rights of Americans by getting Federal agencies, including the FBI, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security and others involved to ‘detect and deter hate crime [Free Speech].’ Muslim organizations are pulling the wool over legislators’ eyes, by adding a few more minority religions to the Resolution to hide their true intent and make it more palatable than the earlier anti-bigotry and hateful rhetoric towards a Muslim only resolution, which failed to pass in 2015 as H.Res. 529. If we are to have a robust debate on public issues, it is critical that ‘special protection’ be given to the free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.”

It is not worthy of Congress to ignore the protections of the First Amendment, to the U.S. Constitution which is part of our Founding history. In a 1937 case, Palko vs. Connecticut, Justice Cardozo said, “… of freedom of thought and speech. Of that freedom one may say that it is the matrix, the indispensible condition, of nearly every other form of freedom.” Cardozo must have been an admirer of Cicero.

Intrinsically, the freedom of thought and speech (which includes writing), is part of America’s DNA, our individual identities as citizens, and our very existence. If Americans cannot engage in public debate that might be offensive to others, then who are we as a nation?

For some Americans, the most troubling aspect is that S.Res. 118 was passed in a stealth manner, with no debate or discussion to inform the public at large. In fact, some are claiming that those who passed this bill, which is deemed unconstitutional, may have violated their oath to preserve and protect the Constitution – an impeachable offense.

There is a vast difference between the freedom of speech and organized violence. The former is a constitutional right and always shall be. Why do people engage in debate? Because they believe in the superiority of their ideas, be it moral, political, or religious. Some may even surmise that debating is ego driven.

Whatever the reasoning may be, what if people don’t want to engage in public debate? Why? Do they doubt the superiority of their ideas? Do they lack faith in attaining a potential debate victory? Or do they simply reason differently and are unwilling to adhere to the rules in a free society? The fact is that the freedom of expression in the 21st century has become disproportionate among certain groups and fractures a genuine atmosphere of free and open debate. To the Senate’s peril, their tendency is now to ignore the advice of Cicero.

Muslims in America appear to be reluctant to enter the marketplace of ideas, where their belief system is challenged in a Western society of public debate. Instead, Senators like Kamala Harris, Dianne Feinstein, Marco Rubio, Susan Collins, congressional House member Barbara Comstock and fellow co-sponsors, and groups like “antifa” prefer to smother any form of free speech that might challenge belief systems like Islam. That is precisely what S.Res. 118 and H.Res. 257 attempt to achieve, an inequality of freedom in the United States, whereby freedom of speech is allowed for some – but not for all citizens. Cicero would be deeply saddened, yet not surprised.

Monica Morrill is a Geographer focusing on government regulation and policies. She co-authored the book BETRAYED: The Shocking True Story of Extortion 17 as told by a Navy SEAL’s Father. Ms. Morrill was a member of the Asian Pacific American Advisory Committee to President Trump during the 2016 Presidential elections. Ms. Morrill is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis, of the conservative-online-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.