When Rhode Island patriots burned the cutter Gaspee in 1722, the British government sought to entice potential informants with rewards, but no one came forward. The same approach was tried with the original Tea Party in Boston but none of the “Mohawks” was ever exposed. The idea of “ratting out” fellow Americans was simply unthinkable during the time of the Revolution, but some contemporary government figures appear to view it as an accepted practice. This is one of many reasons why George W. Shuster, a Yale Law School graduate living in Rhode Island, sought to trace President Obama’s “systematic assault” on First Amendment freedoms as part of a book project that is already screaming out for a sequel.
“As the other key constitutional safeguards against the power and influence of the federal government have eroded over time, the First Amendment has become more important, and is perhaps more important now than it was at the time of the founding,” he said in an interview. “When you look at the separation of powers, President Obama is constantly lecturing the judiciary, which is supposedly independent, and is supposed to be a check on unconstitutional actions. When you look at federalism, the states are supposed to operate like 50 separate laboratories, but they are becoming more dependent on the federal government. That’s why I say the First Amendment is more important now: it is doing the combined work of other protections that have been abandoned.”
Just before the first Tea Party demonstrations were organized in April 2009, President Obama sent a decree out to FBI field offices directing them to conduct covert surveillance and identify the participants. Later that same year, a White House Web site was set up asking Americans to report on “fishy” comments about ObamaCare. The site was eventually shut down after in the wake of intense criticism. These episodes are highly instructive and revealing, Shuster said.
“The new standard seems to be that anything offensive to President Obama is not permissible,” he observed. “But the core of the First Amendment is political speech and the ability to criticize government, criticize government officials and government policies. And you should be able to do with this without looking over shoulder and wondering who is listening.”
When President Obama campaigned in 2008, he pledged an “open and transparent” presidency and also said he would make any proposed legislation widely available for public consumption before there was a vote, Shuster reminds readers in his book. But when it came time to move the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), widely known as ObamaCare, through Congress, the Democratic leadership “violated due process” and resisted open debate, Shuster said.
“The lawsuits by the majority of states chose to focus judicial review of the Act based on the constitutional and other defects in its substantive provisions,” he wrote. “Yet the procedural defects in its passage are highly offensive to the Constitution, as well. Why not base the case for legislative repeal on the claim that the underlying cause of these substantive defects are the procedural defects that allowed it to become law? … It is abundantly clear that the process by which ObamaCare was enacted, in repeated violation of both the spirit and letter of the First Amendment, among other procedural shortcomings, rankled the People.”
The book, titled Obama’s War on Free Speech, carefully documents the Obama Administration’s multiple assaults on the First Amendment. An entire chapter is devoted to the attacks on Fox News, talk radio, and other dissenting voices. Shuster also discusses how Obama has yielded to radical Islam in areas where it is his responsibility to defend free speech.
At a time when the government becomes less tolerant, and more restrictive, many Americans understandably find it necessary to fall back on anonymity, he explained.
“Go back to the Federalist Papers, and we don’t entirely know who wrote what,” he said. “We know today that Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison were the authors, but we’re still entirely sure who was ‘Publicus” in certain cases. The point is that they found it necessary back then to keep their identities anonymous. That’s important today too, but even this is in danger.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D, NY), for example, continues to push the DISCLOSE Act, which would force companies and individuals to reveal their names before entering the political fray.
“My hope with this book is that more people come to see what’s happening and they view the period beginning in 2008 as a teachable moment,” Shuster said. “Even if Obama is voted out of office, there are some lessons that should never be forgotten. The First Amendment is our last line of the defense, and the Left knows it.”
Of the following two issues related to Rhode Island’s public schools, which one is a greater concern?