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Late last month, the never-ending debate over freedom of speech made both national and local news. On the national front, the U.S. Supreme Court negated certain restrictions on corporations and labor unions that wish to support or challenge political candidates. Effectively, the court’s majority ruled that corporations and unions have the same fundamental right to freedom of speech as individuals.
Locally, the Florissant City Council approved a bill that prohibits city department leaders from campaigning for or against candidates for city office. Prior to that bill’s passage, Florissant’s mayor suggested the bill might unfairly restrict department leaders’ right to free speech.
In voicing these opinions, Florissant’s mayor and the Supreme Court’s majority seem to ignore the possibility that, by boosting the speech of some, they risk undermining the speech of others.
The leaders of corporations, unions, and yes, even municipal departments have an opportunity – by virtue of their positions and the resources they control – to exercise their right to speak frequently and dominantly. In turn, this amplified speech could muffle or drown out the speech of anyone who holds a lesser position or has fewer resources.
Despite their mayor’s protests, the Florissant City Council understood this risk for imbalance and they sought to mitigate it. Regrettably, the Supreme Court’s majority did just the opposite.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Pete Abel is a public affairs executive. He serves on the boards of Stages St. Louis and the Greater Missouri Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Association. Previously, he served as managing editor of the political blog “The Moderate Voice.” His career started in 1985, first as a freelance reporter and later as a full-time staff writer for the St. Louis Suburban Journals, covering municipal politics and local businesses.