H.R. 1 Threatens Americans' Freedom of Speech

Just like in 2019, Democrats have made sweeping election reforms their top priority for this Congress. One of the most alarming parts of the legislation is its massive restrictions on Americans' freedom of speech. As the Institute for Free Speech's Luke Wachob explained:

Once again, House and Senate Democrats have made it their top legislative priority to limit First Amendment rights, expose Americans to harassment and intimidation for their beliefs, crack down on political speech on the internet, pump millions of tax dollars into politicians’ campaigns, and transform the enforcement of federal campaign finance law into a partisan endeavor. The bill’s cheerleaders, meanwhile, have made it their top priority to lie to the public about the proposal.

The legislation in question is H.R. 1 and S. 1, the so-called “For the People Act.” We’ve said before these bills would be more accurately named the “For the Politicians Act” because they limit the people’s freedom to speak and associate with others by imposing enormous burdens on political advocacy and campaigning.

Republicans, liberal groups, and members of the media alike all opposed the 2019 version of the legislation because of its restrictions on free speech:

Lest we forget, the ACLU urged a “no” vote on H.R. 1 in 2019 because the bill would “unconstitutionally burden speech and associational rights.” The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board also railed against H.R. 1’s speech restrictions in a piece titled “House Democrats Say Shush.” And Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell wrote about the threats to free speech in The Washington Post, accusing Democrats of “angling for more control over what you can say about them and how they get reelected.”

This time around, The Wall Street Editorial Board has already come out against the legislation.

The R Street Institute further explains how the bill limits Americans' First Amendment rights:

It limits freedom of speech: The first amendment protects public speech and case law accords the most protection to political statements. While the internet does make broad circulation of ideas easier than ever before, reaching a true mass audience almost always requires spending money. Therefore, restricting money spent on political causes, while perhaps well-intentioned, also restricts speech. H.R. 1 only adds to the labyrinth of laws and regulations that govern spending money on political causes and it should be opposed for that reason alone. It’s through political speech that people can make their views known and can debate with each other. Less money for political speech means that whoever has power already is likely to keep it even if they use it in harmful ways.

H.R. 1 would weaken organizations that are seeking to impact public policy in positive ways: The first amendment applies to mass media organizations, nonprofits and unions, and is the reason any of these groups can speak without any fear of criminal sanction. Profit-making businesses, the lifeblood of the economy, have political rights too. The right to speak freely also involves the right to speak collectively and anonymously. We believe that limiting speech for people or groups we disagree with eventually could open the door to limiting our own speech. As a non-profit organization, the precedents H.R. 1 would set for groups like us would significantly restrict the ability of numerous organizations to carry out critical policy work.

It aims to forbid anonymous speech: Anonymous speech about political matters has played a vital role in America’s history—just ask the authors of The Federalist Papers. Many of those who supported the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s had very legitimate fears of having their identities uncovered. There are many good reasons to speak anonymously and disclosure requirements only harm individuals who support unpopular causes. But sometimes people who support once-unpopular causes turn out to be right. Helping a cause should not require public declarations of support.

Free speech is just one of many major concerns that Republicans have with the 791 page-long H.R. 1.  Freedom of speech is of the most fundamental rights given to Americans, and H.R. 1 represents yet another avenue for Democrats to to attack freedom of speech in the United States.