In the past, liberals have professed vigorous support for the first amendment, even when it applies to unpopular causes. Perhaps the most famous case involved ACLU support for the right of some neo-Nazis to stage a demonstration in a Jewish community in Illinois. Their argument used to go something like: we may not agree with what they say, but we agree with their right to say it. But now that a group of radical pro-lifers is pushing the envelope, we have been struck by the reluctance of liberals in the media to declare their unconditional support for the first amendment.
This case involves a mere web site, not an effort to physically march in someone?s community. An antiabortion group is being sued in Portland, Oregon, for identifying abortion doctors on their site on the Internet, even including information about where they live and work, and then tabulating whether they get injured or killed by an antiabortion fanatic. It?s called “The Nuremberg Files,” named after the post-World War II trials of Hitler?s Nazis, and it?s located at Christiangallery dot com. It wants abortion doctors to be put on trial for crimes against humanity. While the site is in bad taste and is morally offensive, it stops short of advocating violence against anyone.
The liberals reacted with outrage when Congress attempted to merely regulate the Internet by eliminating obscene or indecent material that reaches young children. But in the case of this anti-abortion web site, they want the government to ban it. Two liberal pro-abortion groups, Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation, which represents abortion doctors, not only want the site banned by the government, they want its sponsor to pay millions of dollars in damages for supposedly contributing to a “climate of violence” against abortionists. They are suing under a federal law created to protect abortion doctors from direct physical attack.
In its own story about the controversy, the Washington Post ran a picture of the home page of the controversial web site. but carefully blackened out its location so readers of the papers couldn?t see and judge it for themselves. How?s that for encouraging free, fair and open debate?
This suit has been encouraged by Attorney General Janet Reno?s Justice Department, which is appointing a federal panel to investigate antiabortion violence and which has already indicated that “The Nuremberg Files” web site is among its priorities. Associate Attorney General Raymond C. Fisher said the panel would examine the site to find a “specific remedy” for dealing with it.
A “remedy” for information published on the Internet? While liberals have been reluctant to speak out against this attempt at censorship, representatives of the Electronic Frontier Foundation have done so. They point out that the Supreme Court standard for limiting free speech in such a case is evidence that threats are likely to create “imminent lawless action.” There is no such threat in this case, and everyone knows it. Yet the liberals have been strangely silent about protecting this unpopular cause. It is apparent they want to use the power of government to censor speech they disagree with.