Biden says advocate of federal ‘hate speech’ law would oversee government media transition
November 14, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Former Vice President Joe Biden’s selection of a transition chief for government-owned media entities is raising concerns over a potential Biden administration’s commitment to free speech, in light of Richard Stengel’s past calls for new laws recognizing that “all speech is not equal.”
Biden’s presidential transition website – which has been launched despite the presidential election having yet to be certified in his favor – identifies Stengel as leading his team that will “reflect the values and priorities of the incoming administration” in transitioning the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) from President Donald Trump’s hands. USAGM oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia, Middle-East Broadcasting Networks, and the Open Technology Fund.
Stengel, a journalist, former Obama administration official, and former head of the National Constitution Center, is an alarming choice to critics due to a Washington Post op-ed he wrote in October 2019 calling for a federal “hate speech” law. In the piece, he argues that America’s broad protections for even hateful speech are a global outlier, and that protecting “hateful speech that can cause violence by one group against another...seems like a design flaw.”
He declared that “it’s time to consider” emulating laws other countries have passed since World War II to “curb the incitement of racial and religious hatred,” defining “hate speech” as “speech that attacks and insults people on the basis of race, religion, ethnic origin and sexual orientation.”
“All speech is not equal,” Stengel concludes. “And where truth cannot drive out lies, we must add new guardrails. I’m all for protecting ‘thought that we hate,’ but not speech that incites hate.”
At the time, Brookings Institution visiting fellow James Kirchick responded with his own Post op-ed, noting that “you’d think that a man who worked so closely with the most famous political prisoner in the world [Nelson Mandela] would be the last person to advocate criminal prosecution of his fellow Americans for their expression.”
“Stengel never adequately defines what constitutes ‘hate speech,’ because he can’t. The concept is inherently subjective,” Kirchick argues. “Investing government bureaucrats with the power to determine what constitutes legally proscribed ‘hate speech’ presents many problems, foremost among them the lack of a neutral arbiter.”
“Stengel offers post-World War II European hate speech laws as positive examples that the United States should emulate,” he writes. “Yet there is no evidence that speech regulations do anything to dampen political violence and extremism, maladies that contemporary Europe boasts in abundance. On the contrary, one could argue that, by rendering certain views and expressions criminally taboo, hate speech laws only encourage the very phenomena they are designed to combat.”
Regardless, Stengel’s selection appears to signal a dramatic shift in how government-owned media outlets like VOA will be operated and supervised. The New York Post notes that President Donald Trump’s USAGM head, Michael Pack, fired several bureaucrats at the outlets it owned for their role in the creation of a pro-Biden video appealing to Muslim voters and for neglecting security procedures in hiring foreign workers.
The pick also hints at a continuation and worsening of free speech issues that persisted under the Trump administration, such as the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) holding a hearing in August to promote a greater role for tech companies in policing “hate speech” worldwide.
Several Biden picks have shed light on what a Biden administration would look like recently, from prospective White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, who has declared himself a “soldier” for abortion-on-demand, to coronavirus strategy advisor Michael Osterholm, who claimed America “could lock down for four to six weeks” to “drive the numbers down,” during which the federal government “could pay for a package right now to cover all of the lost wages for individual workers.”
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