Marking a significant victory for free speech, U.S. district court judge John Kane has ruled that the Coalition for Secular Government (CSG) need not comply with Colorado’s byzantine registration and reporting requirements in order to finance and distribute an issue paper that argues against a statewide ballot measure.
CSG recently released the paper, “The ‘Personhood’ Movement Versus Individual Rights,” which Diana Hsieh and I coauthored. The paper argues (among other things) that the so-called “personhood” measure on Colorado’s ballot, Amendment 67, would violate women’s rights to seek an abortion, to use the birth control of their choice, and to seek common in vitro fertility treatments. The paper also makes the philosophic case for a woman’s right to seek an abortion.
In 2008 and 2010, Hsieh registered CSG with the government and filed reports, as required by Colorado law, in order to finance and distribute previous versions of the paper that opposed “personhood” measures on the ballot in each of those years. Kane’s ruling means that Hsieh will not need to comply with the campaign reporting requirements this year. (“Personhood” failed to make the ballot in 2012.)
During the October 3 trial for the case, the government’s lawyers defending the campaign finance laws argued (among many other things) that, because Hsieh was effective in speaking out to a broad audience, the government had an interest in forcing her to register and report. Kane brilliantly replied in his October 10 ruling:
[Is it the case] that the effectiveness of political speech—the fact it resonates, generates interest, and is downloaded from the internet by individuals wanting to read it—somehow elevates or enervates the public’s informational interest in its disclosure? The more vibrant the public discourse the more justified the burdening of the speech is? Surely not. It must be remembered by those older than Ms. Hsieh that the internet is the new soapbox; it is the new town square. CSG’s “personhood” paper is Tom Paine’s pamphlet. It is the quintessence of political speech.
Why is Kane’s ruling a victory for free speech? Consider the laws and rules on the books in Colorado dictating what you must do if you wish to speak out for or against any candidate or ballot measure. . . .