House Republicans have passed a bill that would prevent federal government officials from putting pressure on tech platforms to censor.
House bill HR 140, or the “Protecting Speech from Government Interference Act,” would “prohibit Federal employees from advocating for censorship of viewpoints in their official capacity, and for other purposes.” The bill passed due to the House Republican majority as lawmakers voted along party lines.
While the bill is a key first step toward safeguarding the First Amendment right to free speech, it is just the beginning. “It was evil for government to collude with Big Tech to deprive conservatives of our basic human rights, so this bill is certainly needed,” MRC Free Speech America Vice President Dan Schneider said. “But it barely scratches the surface of the harms perpetrated by Big Tech against the American people. Congress must not rest on its laurels with this bill. We need wholesale reforms to protect free speech and to rein in Big Tech.”
House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-KY) introduced HR 140 and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL), and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) are among the co-sponsors of the bill.
During deliberations on the bill Comer indicated why the new legislation is so necessary. “The federal government should not be able to decide what lawful speech is allowed – we have the First Amendment for a very good reason,” he said. “Federal officials, no matter their rank or resources, must be prohibited from coercing the private sector to suppress certain information or limit the ability of citizens to freely express their own views on a private-sector internet platform,” he added.
Federal employees who violate the prohibition, under HR 140, would be subject to “disciplinary action” or “an assessment of a civil penalty not to exceed $1,000.” White House staff and Senate-confirmed presidential appointees who violate the prohibition could receive a penalty of up to $50,000. The bill begins by stating, “It is the policy of the Congress that employees acting in their official capacity should neither take action within their authority or influence to promote the censorship of any speech, nor advocate that a third party, including a private entity, censor such speech.”
Several amendments have been approved for the bill, including one targeting law enforcement agencies.
This comes as the Twitter Files and a lawsuit from Missouri’s and Louisiana’s attorneys general revealed a vast network of government-tech collusion to censor Americans, even in the White House. The Twitter Files particularly intensified the debate as some Democrats have doubled down on censorship efforts and Republicans have defended free speech.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this piece stated that the civil penalty for federal employees should not exceed 10,000.
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