(The Center Square) – Todd Rokita, sworn in as attorney general Monday, released a statement on free speech, saying he will investigate tech company censorship and take action, where possible, to stop it.
“It is well established, and I think we all agree, that free speech does not include the right to yell ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theater,” Rokita wrote in the statement. “One person’s speech cannot infringe on another person’s right to personal safety. Similarly, we are not free to directly encourage or incite violence, or threaten or intimidate other people. However, we are explicitly free to express political beliefs. In fact, the free expression of political beliefs should be encouraged, even if we do not agree with the beliefs. It is this free dialogue, the free exchange of ideas, good and bad, that fosters our self-governance.”
Rokita was the youngest secretary of state in the country when he was elected to that office in 2002 and served until 2010. He was also a member of Congress representing the fourth congressional district, west of Indianapolis, from 2011 to 2019 and ran for the U.S. Senate in 2018, losing in the Republican primary to Mike Braun.
Rokita is seen as one of Indiana’s more conservative political leaders and a strong supporter of President Trump. He’s best known in the state as the person responsible for Indiana’s Voter ID law, one of the strictest in the country.
In his statement, Rokita said he supports President Trump, but seemed to qualify this support, saying, “I am not an absolute supporter of any human being.”
He went on to refer to the protest at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, when protesters pushed past barricades, broke windows and fought with Capitol Police officers. Two Capitol Police officers have died from injuries suffered in the melee and an unarmed protester, Ashli Babbitt, was shot and killed by police as she tried to climb through a barricaded doorway near the House chamber.
“To be clear, I also condemn the Capitol violence in the same way and terms that I have condemned the violence last summer,” he said. “As Lincoln said in his Lyceum Address, ‘violence only begets violence.’ I do, however, strongly believe in protecting speech and the free exercise of thought without limitations by the Government—or tech monopolies.”
Rokita referred to Twitter permanently banning President Trump on Friday.
“Almost immediately following Twitter’s ban on the President, I began receiving messages from Trump supporters whose accounts were also banned, inexplicably,” Rokita said. “Later in the evening Friday, we learned that tech giants Apple and Google were threatening to ban the newest free speech, conservative leaning, platform, Parler. Conservatives have flocked to Parler to freely exercise their own speech. Now, big tech threatens to stifle and silence them.”
Rokita said he sent out a tweet Jan. 8 expressing his support for President Trump, to see if it would also be taken down or if he would be banned from Twitter. The tweet said: “I will always be for our president @realDonaldTrump @DanScavino”
“Although a ban on my account has not yet occurred as many others have experienced, we confront an important question at this time in our nation about the extent to which we allow tech companies to control speech,” he wrote.
Rokita went on to speak directly to the debate about social media companies and the First Amendment that has been raging for several years – a debate in which social media companies Facebook and Twitter have insisted that they are not publishers but are utilities, and so not responsible for what is published on their platforms. In 1996, Congress gave them legal immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — an extraordinary protection that Congress, at the time, said was necessary to maintain a free exchange of ideas.
But that free exchange of ideas seemed to come to an abrupt end in the last several days when the president of the United States was banned from not only Twitter, but also Facebook and Instagram, and all three sites also deleted the accounts of many supporters of the president.
“Private companies can control speech on their property, just as private citizens can,” Rokita said. “However, when those private companies are effectively monopolies, controlling the entire dialogue of a nation, and using that control to suppress certain speech, we are compelled as a people and as elected officials, through the democratic process, to uphold Constitutional protections on free speech.”
Rokita went on to say that when as attorney general on Jan. 11, he will have “with an eye toward liberty.”
“Not just liberty as an abstract concept, but liberty in action,” he said in the statement. “I will be using my experience as a guide for how we can ensure the free exercise of speech not only in Indiana, but throughout the Nation. I will be further investigating and taking action, wherever possible, to limit the ability of tech companies to infringe on the free market of thought for our citizens. I, and we, have a solemn duty to do so under our Constitution.”
Rokita’s statement is entitled: An Experiment in Free Speech, and can be read in full here: https://toddrokita2020.com/2021/01/09/attorney-general-todd-rokita-an-experiment-in-free-speech/
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