Last week I wrote about an important freedom that allows our nation to succeed and prosper: free enterprise. This week I’d like to talk about another core freedom: free speech. The right to express ideas and defend one’s point of view is crucial to the functioning of America’s political system, society, and economy. And this right is under attack today.
This should concern the business community greatly, because we’re often the prime target. Attacks on free speech in this country have been growing steadily in recent years across many institutions, but business free speech has been the No. 1 target for legislators, regulators, and activists.
These threats take many forms—legislation and regulations designed to threaten the political engagement of business groups and others. Outrageous fines being legally extorted from companies by prosecutorial agencies. Abusive efforts by agencies like the IRS to single out and punish organizations having a different view of what is right for our nation. Overzealous academic speech codes, restraints on journalists, and a disturbing lack of respect for other voices and viewpoints.
Plenty of people disagree with the positions of the business community. And that’s fine. They should fight us on the battleground of ideas. Tell the American people we’re dead wrong. But don’t shut down and choke off our right—or the right of any other American citizen or institution—to speak up and speak out. This country must never go down the path of criminalizing policy and political differences.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is standing up to these attacks. We’re refusing to be intimidated or sidelined. In the courts and in the court of public opinion, we’re keeping up the fight to ensure that businesses can use their words and their resources to promote ideas and support the causes they care about. And we’re proud to advocate for the rights of everyone to do the same—including students on college campuses, the media, and even our opponents.
As job creators and engines of economic growth, businesses and their leaders deserve a say in the direction of our government, economy, and society. Not only do they have a right to stand up and voice their views, but doing so is critical to the success of our country. Every American has a stake in business and the ideas that ensure its survival and prosperity. That’s why the Chamber will never let up in our defense of free speech in all its forms.