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Barack Obama, Free Speech and Operation Choke Point… you’d better watch out, you might be next!

It's all OK as long as it's the other guys ox being gored...

The Constitution guarantees every American the Freedom of Speech. The very first Amendment to the document says “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech…” Of course, what is speech that it needs such protection? Speech is more than just saying what’s on your mind, regardless of how profound or silly it is. Speech is communication. That’s the speech that needed protection and was incorporated into the First Amendment. It was the communication of thoughts and ideas that needed protection. Speech needed protection because of the impact it could have on others. Kings don’t like their authority questioned and a freedom of speech could potentially rile up his subjects.

It is that very reason that our Founding Fathers sought to protect speech: For the people to keep the government in check.

So now, today, we are all lucky enough to have that freedom. But it’s not literally the words coming out of your mouth that need the protection. After all, you could stand in your shower and say whatever you want and no king or president would likely care. No, it’s your ability to communicate ideas to others that is real value and has the power to effect change.

Knowing that communication was such a central element of the Freedom of Speech, how would you feel if the government used its various powers to say “We’re not going to try and stop you from speaking, however we are going to threaten anyone who listens to you.” You’d be dumbfounded to say the least – no pun intended. That doesn’t make a bit of sense and it’s likely unconstitutional as it puts a dagger into the very heart of what free speech is about.

Thankfully the Obama administration has not yet decided to do quite that, yet… although the IRS scandal was certainly an attempt to accomplish the same thing. They are however using that very same tactic to shut down a wide range of legal businesses they don’t like. They are doing it to gun and ammunition dealers. They are doing it to the porn industry. They are doing it to payday lenders. They are doing it to Colorado marijuana retailers. In every one of these cases the administration is seeking to close down legal businesses by using its regulatory powers to stop banks from doing business with them. It’s called “Operation Choke Point” and it’s a joint effort by the Departments of Justice, Treasury and a handful of other agencies to effectively shut-down industries that the Obama administration doesn’t like.

How do they accomplish that? By contacting the banks servicing those businesses and “encouraging” them to stop doing business with the frowned upon businesses. Although the businesses are perfectly legal, the banks, recognizing that the price for not adhering to those “suggestions” would be a regulatory nightmare from which they might not be able to survive, acquiesce.

The problem however is that the government doesn’t have the legal right to coerce businesses out of business arbitrarily just because they don’t like them. That’s the whole point of the Constitution in the first place, particularly the 10th Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Government can not legally rule by executive fiat. But somehow Barack Obama thinks he can.

Maybe you support what he’s doing. Maybe you’re against gun ownership or porn. The question becomes however, what about the next president? Maybe he’s against different things, even if they are legal. Let’s say Rick Santorum becomes the next president and decides to use the Treasury Department to force banks to stop servicing abortion clinics and their employees. The 21st Amendment repealed prohibition, but what if the next president felt that thousands of innocent deaths annually due to drunk driving was too many and decided to use the Department of Agriculture to outlaw the growing of hops, barley and grapes? What if the next president decides that unions are a threat to the nation’s prosperity and uses Homeland Security to, while in line with the 1st Amendment, allow them to meet, but to limit them meeting in spaces no larger than a Starbucks? What if the next president thinks electric cars require too many resources to manufacture so he uses the Energy Department to tamp down demand by having power companies shut off electricity to owners’ homes? Where does it stop?

The whole point of the Constitution and the rule of law is that citizens know the bounds of what is legal and what is not and understand where government action is appropriate. Those who operate within those bounds should be free from arbitrary government coercion. If “Operation Choke Point” is allowed to stand then it changes the United States from a nation (government) of laws to a nation of men. That’s a big problem, and not only because we have statists like Barack Obama and Eric Holder controlling the reins of power.  More importantly,  it undermines the very foundation of the nation. Once that which defines legal becomes a moving target based on who’s in power, then no one can be secure in their businesses, their homes or anywhere in their lives. One of two things follow: anarchy or tyranny. People will choose to either do what they want regardless of what the law says or they will do what they think the people in power want, regardless of what the law says. One or the other will prevail. Neither of which is fertile ground for freedom or prosperity for anybody other than those in power.

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