Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Freedom of "correct" speech. When harassment and intimidation undermines the 1st Amendment, privacy, and property rights

Excerpts from: Come Let Us Harass Them by John Fund in the Wall Street Journal

Americans claim to favor open and honest debate in the democratic process, but when it comes to gay marriage it appears some proponents would rather intimidate their critics. In Washington State, gay rights groups have demanded public release of the names of 138,000 people who signed a petition to put forward a November ballot measure to protect traditional marriage. The gay groups want to put the names online, which could lead to signers being harassed along the lines of what happened to donors to Proposition 8 in California last year.

Yesterday, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who authored the landmark decision overturning state anti-gay laws, nonetheless blocked a federal appeals court ruling that would have allowed release of the names.

The prospect of harassment is real. Last year, activists hounded those who had financially supported California's Proposition 8. Scott Eckern, artistic director of the California Musical Theater in Sacramento, the state's largest nonprofit performing arts company, was forced to resign over his $1,000 donation to the "Yes on 8" campaign. Los Angeles Film Festival Director Richard Raddon was similarly forced to step down. Marjorie Christoffersen, manager of the famous Los Angeles restaurant El Coyote, resigned after her restaurant was subjected to a month of boycotts and demonstrations because she had contributed a mere $100 to the campaign against gay marriage. . .

Justice Kennedy was no doubt aware of what happened in California when he blocked a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that would have allowed the release of names and addresses of people who signed a petition for Referendum 71, a ballot initiative that would ask voters to reject the state's same-sex domestic partner law.

The Ninth Circuit action had overturned a previous ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle who said releasing the names could infringe on the First Amendment rights of those who signed petitions. . .

Bruce Chapman, a former Washington Secretary of State and a former Director of the U. S. Census Bureau, says the publication of the names could "chill democracy" in the state when it comes to other issues. "We don't make the votes of people public, we don't make how jurors vote public and we keep Census data private for 70 years," he says.

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