A renowned legal scholar and First Amendment expert has slammed former President Barack Obama’s recent claims about “free speech.”
Obama recently provoked widespread criticism for trying to promote himself as an advocate for free speech.
The ex-POTUS called himself a near-absolutist on the First Amendment.
During a recent interview, Obama declared:
“I’m close to a First Amendment absolutist in the sense that I generally don’t believe that even offensive speech, mean speech, etcetera, it should be certainly not regulated by the government.”
“Absolute nonsense,” George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley fired back.
Turley, a constitutional scholar, has testified many times before Congress on issues related to the U.S. Constitution.
He’s even represented members of Congress in court battles.
“While claiming to be a First Amendment [near] absolutist, Obama has supported massive censorship on social media and called for the media to frame news to better educate citizens and shape public opinion,” Turley explained in a column.
“For those of us in the free speech community, those positions make Obama’s recurring claim nothing short of absolute nonsense.”
“In an interview with The Verge Editor-in-Chief Nilay Patel, former President Barack Obama once again claimed that he is virtually a ‘First Amendment absolutist’ despite supporting censorship for years, including United Nations efforts to criminalize criticism of religion on a global scale,” Turley explained.
“There are aspects of the Obama terms that I have praised, but his record on free speech is not one of them.”
Obama supported a movement at the U.N. that would have globally criminalized any speech that Muslims would consider to be a derogatory statement about Muhammad.
At the time, multiple proposals were made to make a criminal out of a Christian should that person say that Muhammad is not a prophet of Allah, or something similar.
The general movement failed, however.
Nevertheless, those prosecutions still take place today in Muslim-majority nations.
Despite his track record, Obama claims that he doesn’t believe even offensive speech should be regulated by the government.
“That is virtually identical to prior statements that ‘I’m pretty close to a First Amendment absolutist’ as he was arguing for social media censorship.
“Notably, Obama avoids calling himself a ‘near free speech absolutist.’
“The distinction is key for Obama and others in supporting massive censorship while virtue signaling that they are tolerant of opposing views.”
“The First Amendment is not synonymous with free speech,” the law professor notes.
“It is only a restriction on government action.
“As emphasized by groups like the ACLU, censorship by private companies is also an attack on free speech.
“As I discuss in my new book, The Indispensable Right, the greatest threat today to free speech is the alliance of government, academic, and business interests in censoring speech.”
Turley warns that Obama is fully aware of the nuances.
In fact, Obama has said:
“The First Amendment is a check on the power of the state.
“It doesn’t apply to private companies like Facebook or Twitter, any more than it applies to editorial decisions made by the New York Times or Fox News. Never has.
“Social media companies already make choices about what is or is not allowed on their platforms and how that content appears.
“Both explicitly through content moderation and implicitly through algorithms.”
Turley warns that Obama “has been no friend to the free speech community.”
“The effort to evade or obfuscate on the issue is common in the current anti-free speech period,” he said.
“However, as I testified before Congress, the level of government involvement and support for these corporate censorship programs could well violate even the First Amendment by creating a ‘censorship by surrogate’ approach.
“Later, that is precisely what a federal court found in issuing an injunction against the administration.
“Chief U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty found that the evidence overwhelmingly shows systematic violation of the First Amendment by the Biden administration.”
Turley concluded by noting Doughty’s determination that the government assumed “a role similar to an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth.'”