Wisconsin Republicans Aim to Protect Free Speech with Pitch for Online Anti-Censorship Legislation

Shae Sortwell and Roger Roth

On Wednesday, Wisconsin State Representative Shae Sortwell (R-WI-02) and State Senator Roger Roth (R-WI) introduced three pieces of legislation aimed to protect free speech rights of Wisconsinites on social media.

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Parents Sue Georgia’s Largest School District over Mask Requirement

Parents in Georgia’s largest school district are suing the superintendent and school system over its mask mandate, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Four parents are seeking an injunction against the mask mandate at Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS), which serves around 180,000 students, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) reported. The requirement was implemented at the end of July when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended indoor masking for schools amid the rise of the delta variant.

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Commentary: Break Up Big Tech Before It’s Too Late

With the rise of populist and bipartisan resentment against Big Tech monopolies along with the recent appointment of Big Tech opponent Lina Khan as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, government action against these companies seems imminent. People are waking up to the fact that they have way too much power and are a threat to the American way of life.

As if on cue, prominent conservatives have come to the defense of these monopolies. Most recently, Robert Bork Jr. argued in National Review that breaking up Big Tech would lead to “a slippery slope to the end of capitalism and the rise of political management of the economy.” He agrees with conservatives such as Representative Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who says, “These [anti-monopoly] bills give power to the FTC, the new commissioner we all know is radically left.”

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Poll: Majority of Americans Support Regulating, Breaking Up Big Tech

A majority of Americans believe major tech companies are too powerful, and support the government regulating and breaking them up, according to a new poll.

The poll, conducted from June 7 to 12 and released Wednesday by Change Research on behalf of progressive groups CAP Action and Public Citizen, found that 81% of respondents believe Big Tech and social media companies are too powerful, with 73% at least “somewhat convinced” they should be regulated and broken up. Republicans had a less favorable view of tech companies than Democrats and tended to be more supportive of antitrust action.

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Commentary: Alumni Organizations Are Pushing Back on Woke Campuses in Battle for Free Speech

When Davidson College senior Maya Pillai was asked about her greatest college memory, the first-generation immigrant answered, “I don’t have one.”

In an August 2020 interview with the Charlotte Observer, Pillai, the president of Davidson’s chapter of College Republicans, described her alienating college experience.

“Because of my political affiliation, it led to not having friends,” said Pillai, who received a full, merit scholarship to the highly-respected North Carolina institution. “And because it led to not having friends, it led to not having a fair reputation on campus. So I’ve been essentially outcast due to my political views.”

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Shelby County Schools’ New Policy Limits Employees’ Speech on Social Media

Shelby County Schools (SCS) adopted a new policy during its board meeting two weeks ago to limit employee speech on social media. The policy’s goal is to “eliminate disruption” to school or district operations by regulating their employees’ social media. The policy defines social media as all internet-based communication and online content; it lists blogs, podcasts, comments, messages, audio recordings, video recordings, and posts. SCS employees are expressly prohibited from posting anything that creates or may create a disruption.

“All social media use by SCS employees that causes, or has a potential to cause, a disruption to school [sic] school/district operations are prohibited[,]” read the policy. “SCS recognizes that social media is used by many District employees as a means of communication for both District and personal purposes. SCS has an interest in promoting workplace efficiency and avoiding actual and potential workplace and school/district disruption.”

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Mesa Public Schools Updates Dress Code Policy to be ‘More Equitable,’ Will Define ‘Hate Speech’ Based on Dictionary

Mesa Public Schools (MPS) updated their dress code policy to make it more equitable and prohibit “hate speech.” Nowhere in their current policies does MPS define “hate speech.”

As reported by The Arizona Sun Times last month, MPS General Counsel Kacey Gregson said that students would have a right to express their political beliefs unless it could be perceived as “hate speech,” promoting violence, or immediately or potentially causing substantial interference with the learning environment.

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Commentary: The Battle Against Big Tech Is an Existential Fight for Conservatives

Person holding phone up in Times Square.

For Big Tech billionaires, these are the best of times, and the worst of times.

Why the best? Because the long arm of social media and online commerce has never reached further and deeper into Americans’ culture, spending habits, lifestyles, and worldview. Likewise, the net worth of these billionaires has risen to undreamed-of heights. COVID was, for tech barons, a blessing in disguise: it trapped Americans indoors, where they could do little else but browse the web, consume digital entertainment, and spend their stimulus dollars on imported Chinese doohickeys. Even as the dreaded virus has retreated, Big Tech has successfully locked in its gains.

Why the worst of times, though? The very rise of Big Tech has portended greater scrutiny. The debasement of Big Tech’s competitors and natural enemies—from brick-and-mortar stores to Trump supporters—has ensured that the drumbeat of criticism of social media companies and online retailers has never been more stridently percussive. 

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U.S. Supreme Court Sides with Student in Free Speech Case

U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of free speech rights for students outside of the classroom in a decision Wednesday.

The court sided with former Mahanoy Area High School student and cheerleader Brandi Levy in the case, formally known as Mahanoy Area School District v B.L., with a 8-1 decision in her favor. Mahanoy Area High School is located in Pennsylvania.

Levy, upset that she had not made her school’s varsity cheer team, posted on the social media site Snapchat a simple message with explicit language expressing her frustration.

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Trial Update on Tennessee Principal Placed on Leave for Warning Students About Social Media Censorship

A lawsuit filed by a Shelby County Schools (SCS) principal placed on leave for warning students about social media censorship is making steady progress. As The Tennessee Star reported in January, Cordova High School Principal Barton Thorne had lectured students during a weekly “principal’s message” on the importance of free speech and the marketplace of ideas following the Capitol Hill riot, which he condemned.

Shelby County Board of Education (SCBE) reinstated Thorne the day that he filed the lawsuit against them. The Liberty Justice Center (LJC) is representing Thorne in the case, Thorne v. Shelby County Board of Education. In the lawsuit, Thorne alleged that SCBE violated his right to free speech and had damaged his career, reputation, and family through their response to the public and media.

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Republicans Debate Breaking up Big Tech After Trump’s Facebook Suspension

Smart phone with Facebook etched out

Many Republicans in Congress have reignited their calls to break up the big tech companies after Facebook announced last week they would maintain the suspension of former President Donald Trump’s account.

A new poll released by Rasmussen Friday found that 59% of likely voters “believe operators of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are politically biased in the decisions they make” with only 26% disagreeing. The rest are unsure.

The poll results went on to say that “a majority of voters now favor ending legal protections for social media companies.” The reported public opinion against the tech giants comes the same week Facebook announced they would keep Trump suspended from their platform, citing his alleged role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.

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Tennessee Tech Will Take Action on Professors for ‘Harassing, Threatening, and Intimidating’ Turning Point USA Students, Advisor

Tennessee Tech University

After reviewing the incident of professors posting flyers targeting a Turning Point USA (TPUSA) advisor and students, Tennessee Tech University (TTU) stated that they will take action. Andrew Smith and Julia Gruber were identified as the professors who posted the flyers on campus.

In the investigation memorandum, the investigator recommended that TTU find the two professors in violation of TTU Policy 600 (Code of Conduct). In accordance with the TTU Policy 650 (Disciplinary Action), TTU will weigh the severity of the infraction to determine disciplinary action. That might include a verbal or written warning, performance improvement plan, suspension with or without pay, demotion, disciplinary probation, or termination. Ultimately, TTU Vice President for Planning and Finance has the final authority on interpretation of this policy for disciplinary action.

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Trial Set for Next May in Student Lawsuit Against District for Banning Biblical Shirt While Allowing LGBTQ Speech

Next May, a student will head to trial against Overton County Board of Education for banning her Biblical shirt while allowing LGBTQ-themed attire and paraphernalia. Court documents show that the board attempted to mediate with the family on Monday. The record indicates that mediation wouldn’t resolve the issue.

“Written discovery has been exchanged that is sufficient to evaluate and discuss settlement substantively,” stated the joint report. “At this stage it does not appear that mediation will successfully resolve this case. However, depositions are scheduled which could help lead to settlement.”

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Free Speech Bills Making Their Way Through the Tennessee General Assembly

The General Assembly is considering several bills to further expand upon the protected rights of free speech. These bills address free speech in areas of public life such as college campuses, social media, state governments, and elections.

Several legislators proposed a bill to create accountability for social media companies and the government entities that use them. State Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) and State Representative Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) introduced legislation that would prohibit state agencies from utilizing any social media platforms that censor the free speech of others on the basis of political ideology, viewpoint discrimination, or personal animus. The language of the bill claimed that using those platforms was a “tacit acceptance” of the practice to limit or censor free speech and therefore a violation of the state constitution. That legislation is in committee currently in both the House and Senate.

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Pharmacy Student Sues University of Tennessee for Alleged Free Speech Violations

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) initially expelled a student for content on her personal social media accounts. Officials claimed that the nuclear pharmacy student, Kimberly Diei (’23), used speech that violated the university’s conduct policies, though Diei has claimed they never informed her of which specific policies she’d violated. Neither of her profiles or any of her content identified Diei as a UT student or mentioned the school in any capacity. Only after Diei obtained legal help did the university reverse her expulsion.

Diei was investigated by the school’s Professional Conduct Committee on two separate occasions based on anonymous complaints. The first investigation occurred during Diei’s first month on campus in September 2019 regarding her Instagram and Twitter accounts in general. Following its review, the committee required Diei to write an apology letter. About a year later, Diei came under investigation again and was expelled for posting several explicit tweets referencing pop culture.
Diei was investigated by the school’s Professional Conduct Committee on two separate occasions, instigated by anonymous complaints from other program students. The first investigation occurred during Diei’s first month on campus, September 2019, regarding her Instagram and Twitter accounts in general; the committee required her to write an apology letter. About a year later, Diei came under investigation again and was expelled for posting several explicit tweets referencing pop culture.

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All Star Panelist Dr. Carol Swain Talks Parler Shutdown, Reality Czars, and the Current Orwellian Climate of America

Thursday morning on the Tennessee Star Report, host Michael Patrick Leahy welcomed Dr. Carol M. Swain in studio to examine the First Amendment in the Orwellian climate of today.

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Vanderbilt Law Professor Says Social Media Platforms Should be on the Offensive, Not Defensive, When It Comes to Regulating Speech

Vanderbilt School of Law Professor Gautam Hans opined that social media companies should be on the offensive when it comes to regulating speech. In a spotlight series called “Ask an Expert” curated by Vanderbilt University, the assistant clinical professor suggested that these platforms ought to modify their approaches to content moderation.

In the brief video, Hans asserted that proactive approaches could improve the current dissatisfaction shared across party lines.

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Dan Gainor VP of MRC TechWatch Explains the Left’s ‘Freedom of Speech Does Not Equal Freedom of Reach’

Monday morning on the Tennessee Star Report, host Michael Patrick Leahy welcomed Dan Gainor Vice President of Business and Culture for the Media Research Center to the newsmakers line to discuss America’s international battle for its civil rights.

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Host Leahy and Crom Carmichael Take Listener Calls Regarding Big Tech and Censorship

Monday morning on the Tennessee Star Report, host Michael Patrick Leahy welcomed all-star panelist Crom Carmichael to the studio and took calls from listeners that questioned Big Tech, Section 230, and the right of free speech.

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Nashville Attorney’s License Suspended for Four Years After Advising How to Get Away with Murder on Social Media

A Nashville attorney received one year active suspension and three years’ probation for offering advice on how to get away with murder. Judge Holly Kirby of the Tennessee Supreme Court issued the ruling against attorney Winston Bradshaw Sitton last Friday, calling it a “cautionary tale on the ethical problems that can befall lawyers on social media.”

Sitton had posted the comment in question on a 2017 Facebook post from a woman, Lauren Houston, who was trying to leave an allegedly abusive relationship. At the time, the two had been friends on the site for about a year. The contested comments appeared on a post in which Houston asked whether it was legal to carry a firearm in her car without paying for a permit.

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Twitter Suspended Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Account for 12 Hours

Twitter suspended Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene from her personal account temporarily on Sunday. The suspension occurred shortly after Greene posted allegations that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer Gabriel Sterling were to blame for potential voter fraud.

Greene had issued a response to Sterling’s tweet which claimed that Greene, Doug Collins, and President Donald Trump were to blame for a significant drop-off in Republican turnout. Just over 270,000 less Republicans voted in the runoff elections, as compared to nearly 166,000 less Democrats.

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Tennessee REALTORS® Bans ‘Hate Speech’ by Members

The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) banned all “hate speech” by its members – not just in members’ professional capacity, but in every aspect of their lives. The policy changes were approved by the NAR Board of Directors during a meeting on November 13.

The policy on hate speech encompasses an array of broad issues: “harassing speech, epithets, or slurs based on race, color, religion sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.” Collectively, these speech-related issues fall under what the NAR terms “public trust,” which also includes misappropriation of client or customer funds, or property and fraud that causes significant economic harm.

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Tennessee Principal on Administrative Leave for Warning Students About Social Media Censorship

A Tennessee principal was placed on paid administrative leave after warning students about the dangers of social media censorship. Principal Barton Thorne recorded a homeroom video on Monday, reportedly sharing his thoughts via the Shelby County Schools (SCS) virtual learning platform to address several Big Tech companies’ recent decisions to censor various individuals and platforms.

In a recording of the video since deleted from YouTube, Thorne emphasized the need to allow for free speech and a “marketplace of ideas.” He condemned the Capitol Hill riot and stated that his statements had nothing to do with President Donald Trump.

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At Princeton, a Racial Reckoning and a Free Speech Battle

In 2015, Princeton University became the second higher-education institution to sign the University of Chicago Statement supporting campus free speech. Yet, five years later, Princeton professor Keith E. Whittington wrote that the university stood “on the front lines” of the battle over speech. Those battle lines were drawn this summer by students and faculty demanding the adoption of “anti-racist” policies, which some on campus say run counter to free speech and open inquiry.

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Ohio Gov. DeWine Signs Bill That Protects Students’ Free Speech

When Ohio college students return to campus after the holidays, they will be able to speak their mind freely.

Gov. Mike DeWine signed the Forming Open and Robust University Minds Act that protects individuals’ First Amendment rights and prohibits “free speech zones” on public college and university campuses in the state.

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Ohio Lawmakers Require Free Speech Protection at Colleges, Universities

The Ohio House of Representatives made voices on the state’s college campus a little louder this week, if Gov. Mike DeWine approves.

The House passed the “Forming Open and Robust University Minds Act,” which would prevent colleges and universities from limiting political speech on campuses or moving that speech into “free speech zones.”

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Commentary: How to Restrain Big Tech Immediately

A year ago, University of Georgia professor Cas Mudde took to Twitter and asked: “How do you manage to stay informed about political news and stay mentally balanced?” In his next tweet, he confessed too much time on social media was contributing to anxiety and depression.

With this, Mudde expressed a sentiment many social media users share. As we discuss policy issues tied to social media—tech regulation, free speech, foreign influence—we shouldn’t lose sight of the damaging psychological effects of today’s information environment. You may not want to hear this a week before the election, but social media addiction is a public health issue. Big Tech is the new Big Tobacco.

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Student Sues School for Banning Biblical Shirt While Allowing LGBTQ Speech

A Tennessee high school student has filed a lawsuit against Overton County School District (OCS) for banning her Biblical shirt while allowing other free speech. The shirt read: “HOMOSEXUALITY IS A SIN – 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.” 
OCS claimed that the student’s shirt violated Livingston Academy dress code policy. Although the policy doesn’t define “offensive messages” or “sexual connotations,” Principal Richard Melton determined that the student’s shirt fell under those criteria.

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Facebook Disabled Dr. Carol Swain’s Ad Account For Promoting Law Enforcement Appreciation Event

Facebook blocked Dr. Carol Swain’s ad account, claiming her ads had violated their policies on “deceptive or misleading practices.” Swain had posted an ad for a virtual law enforcement appreciation event.

Swain told The Tennessee Star that she’d directed the woman who runs her social media to submit the ad. Facebook informed Swain that she’d have to change the ad or submit new paperwork to describe the ad as “political.”

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JMU History Professor Puts a Death Wish on Republicans: They ‘Can Die For All I Care’

James Madison University (JMU) Associate Professor of History Mary Gayne tweeted a death wish for the Republican Party.
“I’m not linked to a party but, this year, I’m just straight up voting the Democratic ticket. Not even going to think about other variations. The Republican Party can die for all I care. They’ve demonstrated lack of loyalty to democracy & the US Constitution. F*** ’em all.”

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Loudoun County School Board Backpedals on Policy Limiting Free Speech Indefinitely After Public Outcry

Loudoun County School Board voted this week to revise their “Professional Conduct” policy governing employee speech off of school property. Up until the latest meeting, members recommended to approve and accept the policy.
Apparently, public outcry from teachers unions and community members led to this decision.

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More Madness in Virginia’s School Systems: Free Speech… Unless We Disagree

The Loudoun County School Board will vote on a policy silencing employees who disagree with racial equity practices. The proposal would extend the school’s jurisdiction over off-campus speech, including social media, speeches, and any written forms of communication.
The new policy would govern employee speech “during and after school or work hours, whether on or off school board property, including the property of any school, office, or facility.”

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Campus Survey: 42 Percent of Students Say Their College Doesn’t Empower Free Speech

Conservative students on college campuses across the U.S. are more likely to self-censor than their more liberal classmates out of fear of backlash or retribution, according to a first-of-its-kind student survey commissioned by RealClearEducation and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

The survey is the largest of its kind – canvasing 20,000 students at 55 U.S. colleges and universities about their experiences with free speech on campuses. Conducted by College Pulse, the survey ranks schools according to how open and tolerant students say they are, among several other criteria, and includes numerous student comments about their experiences.

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Free Speech Group Warns University After it Allowed Black Lives Matter Protest but Banned Other Gatherings

A free speech advocacy group has sent two letters to East Carolina University after the public college banned gatherings of more than 50 students, but allowed a Black Lives Matter protest on campus.

Southeastern Legal Foundation sent a letter to the North Carolina public university on September 16 seeking information on its enforcement of its coronavirus policies. After receiving no response, the public interest law group sent a follow-up letter on September 24.

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Coalition Files Lawsuits to Stop Gov. Whitmer From Silencing Free Speech in Elections, Secretary of State Benson From Undermining Absentee Ballot Integrity

A coalition filed two lawsuits in Michigan on Monday, a federal case against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for allegedly silencing political speech, and a state suit against Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson for reportedly circumventing state law protecting the right of Michiganders to have their vote properly counted.

The lawsuits were announced on a new website launched by the coalition: Got Freedom? The website is available here.

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Commentary: Is Free Speech at Stake in November?

The phenomenon of “cancel culture” is a real and growing threat to free speech in America. This rapidly rising threat has caught many Americans off guard.

Since the rise of the nation-state, almost all the serious threats to freedom of speech have come from government or government sponsored agencies. However, this current threat is not from the government – at least not yet.

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‘Walking on Eggshells’: 62 Percent of Americans Are Afraid to Express Political Views, Survey Finds

Self-censorship is on the rise according to a new Cato Institute survey that reports nearly two-thirds of Americans are afraid to share their political views.

A new CATO Institute/YouGov national survey found 62% of Americans say the political climate today prevents them from saying what they believe. This is up several points from 2017 when 58% of Americans said they were afraid to share their political beliefs.

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Commentary: Big Tech’s Escalating War on Free Speech

On June 19, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld 9-0 the right to freedom of speech, including “hate speech.” As Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court: “The proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express the thought that we hate.” Justice Anthony Kennedy added in a concurring opinion: “A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all.”

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Hawley Calls For Investigation into Officials Favoring Protests While Targeting Religion

Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley called for an investigation into free speech double-standards, saying that state officials have favored protests while targeting religious freedom.

He asked Attorney General William Barr and the Department of Justice to launch a “full civil rights investigation” into violations of “free exercise and free speech rights of religious Americans” in a Tuesday letter.

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Crom Carmichael: The Democratic Party Opposes Conservative Speech

Live from Music Row Friday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. –  host Leahy welcomed the original all-star panelist Crom Carmichael to the studio.

During the second hour, Leahy and Carmichael discuss the Democrat Party’s opposition to Conservative and common sense speak as recently witnessed by the shaming of New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees and Denver Broncos Head Coach Vic Fangio. Recently, both men have walked back their comments and apologized due to accusations of racism.

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Senators Ask State Department to Monitor Free Speech Violations Concerning Coronavirus in China, Other Countries

Several senators across the United States have called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the U.S. Representative to the United Nations Kelly Craft to address concerns about free speech violations in several countries around the world.

Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), John Cornyn (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) submitted the letter on Monday, pointing to crackdown on free speech concerning the coronavirus in China, as well as in Turkey, Bangladesh, Niger and Cambodia, as a reason for concern.

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Trump Activists Mobbed on Ohio University Campus While Officers Watched

Two conservative activists were mobbed and harassed Monday on Ohio University’s Athens campus while multiple police officers watched.

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