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Free speech in peril: The judiciary to the rescue?

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Many people thought that after the U.S. Supreme Court’s binge of rulings at the end of June, the July Fourth holiday would be free of judicial turmoil. Boy, were they wrong!

On the Fourth of July (how beautifully appropriate) the Honorable Terry A. Doughty, U.S. District Court Judge for the Western District of Louisiana, issued a 150-page injunction in a federal lawsuit brought by the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana against the Biden administration, which is known as State of Missouri et al v. Joe Biden.

Make no mistake, this case is a big First Amendment case. After it is decided at the district level, it will be appealed to the appellate level (the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals) and then to the U.S. Supreme Court. My guess is the Supreme Court will decide State of Missouri et al v. Joe Biden near the end of June 2024 just in time for the 2024 presidential election campaign. The Supreme Court’s decision will have a decided impact on the outcome of that campaign.

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Judge Doughty was evidently so concerned about the evidence he was reviewing in the case that he issued an injunction against the federal government to cause them to “cease and desist their present activities with social media until after the case is decided.”

Judge Doughty found “substantial evidence” of a comprehensive censorship campaign, stating that the “evidence produced thus far depicts an almost dystopian scenario. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a period perhaps best characterized by widespread doubt and uncertainty, the U.S. Government seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth.’” 

Jeff Landry, the Louisiana attorney general, commented, “The evidence in our case is shocking and offensive with senior federal officials deciding that they could dictate what Americans can and cannot say on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other platforms about COVID-19, elections, criticism of the government, and more.”

Judge Doughty’s injunction draws attention to several specific government agencies, including the FBI, the Justice Department and the Department of Human Services, who are barred from discussions with social media companies with the purpose of “encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech.” Judge Doughty did carve out exceptions for perceived national security threats and suspected criminal activities.

The Judge also barred the Biden administration from working with the “Election Integrity Partnership, the Virality Project, the Stanford Internet Observatory, or any like project or group for the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content posted with social media companies containing protected free speech.”

Judge Doughty acted upon the fact that the two Republican state attorneys general “have produced evidence of a massive effort by defendants, from the White House to federal agencies, to suppress speech based on its content.”

Landry gave examples of censorship by “influencing social media, including targeting specific individuals such as Tucker Carlson, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., directly targeting them and asking those social media platforms to take their content down.”

The First Amendment freedoms are the “holy grail” of our precious freedoms and the one that does the most to protect the other freedoms is freedom of speech. We have experienced extremely serious attempts by the federal government to censor our freedom of speech under either the guise or the misguided goal of protection.

The answer to bad speech, or even dangerous speech, is not suppression of speech (directly or indirectly), but more speech to correct erroneous speech. The Biden administration’s attempt to censor speech in America is being exposed in State of Missouri et al v. Joe Biden. The administration will do everything within its power to limit the damage, win this case and continue to censor.

All Americans who cherish freedom should be very grateful to the plaintiffs in this case, the Attorneys General of Missouri and Louisiana and Judge Terry Doughty. And we should pray for wisdom for all concerned, including the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Much is at stake in this case. It is hard to see how our freedoms survive and flourish if the people lose this case. This judicial process once again reminds us of the wisdom of our forefathers and the “checks and balances” political systems they bequeathed us with its judicial check to executive and legislative power.

Dr. Richard Land, BA (Princeton, magna cum laude); D.Phil. (Oxford); Th.M (New Orleans Seminary). Dr. Land served as President of Southern Evangelical Seminary from July 2013 until July 2021. Upon his retirement, he was honored as President Emeritus and he continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor of Theology & Ethics. Dr. Land previously served as President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) where he was also honored as President Emeritus upon his retirement. Dr. Land has also served as an Executive Editor and columnist for The Christian Post since 2011.

Dr. Land explores many timely and critical topics in his daily radio feature, “Bringing Every Thought Captive,” and in his weekly column for CP.

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