Amy White, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Ohio University and author of Virtually Obscene: the Case for an Uncensored Internet, spoke at the ACLU’s Election Dissection symposium on November 12, 2008 in Columbus, Ohio. Addressing the status of free speech, White characterized the coming Obama presidency as much like that of the Clinton era, during which equal protection under the law and free speech were sacrificed to popular anti-marriage and online censorship legislation. My annotated transcription of Prof. White’s remarks:
In July, the Child Online Protection Act was, once again, found to be unconstitutional, and currently we’ve got this little thing called the Patriot Act, which contains lots of provisions that violate First Amendment rights. It’s unclear how Obama will handle things like internet censorship. Clinton, although very pro-choice and things like that, signed off on many censorship bills. So again, the individual sometimes determines these issues more than party lines. As for the Patriot Act, Obama joined a filibuster that blocked the reauthorization of the Patriot Act which would have made permanent 14 of the 16 original Patriot Act provisions. However, he did support a compromise piece of legislation that modestly improved the harm to civil liberties, but… I mean, it did things such as say you can’t read through people’s library records any more, but there was still some objectionable matter in there.
In Ohio, the election actually stirred up some trouble. Go figure! There were unconstitutional put into place on the placement of signs. Some I found kind of funny: places charging $5 per sign to have political signs up? Yes! Bath Township permitted political signs to be displayed only during brief periods of time before and after an election. Silver Lake imposed severe limits on the number and size of yard signs. But it looks like once the ACLU got involved, that all kind of went away! That’s good.
There are also many ongoing free speech cases in Ohio. Some of them are just silly and have been struck down, like Bookfriends vs. Ted Strickland, which is basically the Ohio version of the Child Online Protection Act, but hopefully now that Michael Oxley is no longer representing Ohio, maybe this will be struck down as unconstitutional, and it looks like it’s on its way there.
Bottom line? Don’t assume that freedom will make a comeback just because a Democrat is in the White House.