June 11, 2014
Update on Proposed Constitutional Amendment
that Threatens Free Speech
William A. Estrada, Esq.
Director of Federal Relations
Joshua D. Denton
Federal Relations Intern
Will Estrada has been leading our efforts to defend homeschooling on Capitol Hill since 2006. As the oldest of eight kids, and a homeschool graduate who married a homeschool graduate, he has a passion for protecting homeschool freedom. Read more >>
Last Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on proposed constitutional Amendment S.J. Res. 19, which would give government the power to restrict the ability of citizens to engage in political speech. HSLDA had previously urged phone calls and emails in opposition to this proposed constitutional amendment, and we encourage you to read our analysis in order to get the full background.
HSLDA staff attended the Judiciary Committee hearing. The room was completely packed, and the atmosphere was charged with excitement. It was obvious that this hearing was significant to citizens and statesmen alike. You can watch the entire hearing on the Judiciary Committee webpage.
After Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (VT) spoke in favor of the proposed amendment, Senator Chuck Grassley (IA) responded with a powerful argument against it.
“Rights are individual, not collective,” he said. “As our Founders said, they come from God.”
We encourage you to watch his five-minute speech here.
Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) took the unprecedented step of testifying before the committee. McConnell stated that S.J. Res 19 allows the federal government to rewrite rules on who gets to speak and who doesn’t.
“What makes this proposed amendment so dangerous is that it attacks the free speech that is at the very core of the First Amendment,” he said. “It would allow government to set restrictions on free speech but not the press; the press would have the liberty to speak, but no one else does.”
Senator McConnell stated in plain terms that S.J. Res. 19 will not pass; it is simply a political exercise.
“However,” he added. “It is still embarrassingly bad.”
Defending Free Speech
Senator Ted Cruz (TX) gave a powerful defense in protection of free speech.
“The bill of rights is precious to every American,” he said. “For two centuries Congress has not dared to mess with the First Amendment. As immune as we are to abuses by the federal government, citizens are still astonished that Congress would support regulating the political speech of every single American.”
Senator Cruz wrapped up his comments to the committee by warning them to leave the First Amendment undisturbed.
“Forty-two Democrats have signed their name to give Congress the power to muzzle our free speech as free citizens,” he said.
You can read more about his statements here.
Floyd Abrams, of the Pentagon Papers case fame, also testified before the committee. He stated that the fact this amendment is proposed in the name of equality makes it no less threatening.
“An amendment claiming it will restore democracy by limiting free speech is a perversion of the English language,” said Abrams. “It’s not a coincidence that the First Amendment has never been amended before. In times past, self-restraint has won the day.”
Mr. Abrams wrapped up his address by predicting that the principles of liberty and self-restraint would still win the day in the case of S.J Res.19. Here is a link to Mr. Abram’s comments.
What Will Happen Next?
HSLDA believes that S.J. Res. 19 would inhibit the freedoms guaranteed to us as free citizens by giving government the power to restrict the ability of citizens to engage in political speech—an essential part of our Bill of Rights.
The senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee heard your voice this time, but we know that this proposal is not over yet. Forty-three Senate Democrats have signed onto this proposed amendment, and it will likely come up for a vote in the near future.
Thankfully, proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution require both the House and Senate to approve with a two-thirds vote, and then three-fourths of the states to approve, so it is almost certain that S.J. Res. 19 will not be added to the U.S. Constitution anytime soon. However, we need to make sure that our elected officials hear from we, the people, loud and clear that we do not want our freedoms abridged.
We will let you know if S.J. Res. 19 is scheduled for a vote. Until then, we encourage you to continue to contact your two U.S. senators and urge them to not to support S.J. Res. 19. You can reach your senators by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 or by using HSLDA’s Legislative Toolbox.
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