An Important Lesson From Chicago On Confronting The Enemies Of Free Speech
Submitted by Mark Glennon of Wirepoints
The modern left’s assault on free speech is perhaps the most terrifying element of the madness we have succumbed to for the simple reason that democracy is meaningless without it. The assault has been largely successful. Voices that should be heard are muzzled and, more insidiously, countless other voices are frightened into silence.
We see that suppression routinely. Too often, readers here tell us of being intimidated into silence by the cancel mob, a mob now controlling much of our government. The iron boot of government on one’s throat is no small matter: Fear of the cost of litigating against a government intent on suppressing free speech is particularly intimidating.
That intimidation must come to an end. Help is often available – a resource you should prize. A number of law firms specializing in free speech are now available, pro bono – free or at reduced cost. And they are winning, thanks to federal courts that still recognize the First Amendment right to free speech.
A Chicago company’s free speech case is an illustration.
Townstone Financial is a smallish, Chicago-based home mortgage originator. It marketed itself primarily through a weekly one-hour show on AM 560 called The Townstone Financial Show. They discussed issues of interest to homebuyers and offered advice to listeners and callers, sometimes getting into topics like crime, policing, movies and the like.
In 2020, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) sued Townstone claiming that the company violated a fair lending law by discriminating against African-Americans.
However, the CFPB never alleged any case of Townstone discriminating on mortgage applications.
Instead, the CFPB said Townstone discriminated through its marketing in its radio show by “discouraging” applications from Blacks. The CFPB’s evidence was a handful of comments on the show made over a four-year period representing perhaps 10 minutes of air time out of about 10,000 minutes.
Some of those comments might be regarded as offensive or in bad taste. They referred to a particular Jewel food store at Clark and Division Streets in Chicago as “Jungle Jewel” and included talk of certain Black areas having “hoodlum weekend” and approaching “a real war zone” or as “crazy” and places “to be driven through quickly” while avoiding eye contact.
But the CFPB did not produce even one example of anybody being discouraged from applying with Townstone. Nor, according to Townstone’s lawyers, has the company ever received any complaint about its show.
The comments from the show cited by the CFPB were taken out of context and meant little, Townstone believed. For example, the “Jungle Jewel” was commonly called that by people in the area, and referred to as such even by a Black blogger, who called it “a socioeconomic nightmare and a haven for street crazies.”
As Towntone’s lawyers later argued, if speech like Townstone’s is illegal, what wouldn’t violate the law? “Are creditors permitted to talk about crime at all? Education? Homelessness? Welfare? Poverty? Income distribution? Are they permitted to criticize the Black Lives Matter movement? Support the police? Criticize the Catholic Church about child abuse scandals? Support the BDS movement? Criticize the BDS movement? Support abortion rights? Oppose immigration?”
The lawsuit threatened to entirely destroy Townstone.
Its owner decided to fight.
But how do you fight against the government, which has unlimited resources?
Enter the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit with free speech expertise, which represented the company.
A federal court in Chicago threw out the CFPB’s lawsuit in February. However, the ruling was based mostly on the court’s conclusion that the CFPB had authority only to regulate actual discrimination in lending, not marketing conduct that might be deemed “discouraging.” The court therefore didn’t need to get to the First Amendment defense.
However, the CFPB has now appealed to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, so the free speech defense is being raised again, and Townstone is getting still more help. Among the other firms filing amicus — friend of the court — briefs are Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute, America’s Future, Free Speech Coalition, Free Speech Defense and Education Fund, U.S. Constitutional Rights Legal Defense Fund, and Conservative Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Lawyers from one of those firms, Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute, were guests on our podcast last year discussing legal issues with the University of Illinois’ Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policies and Gov. Pritzker’s gas tax signage law.
It’s amicus brief in Townstone’s case summarizes it nicely: “Congress has not deputized CFPB as the ‘Tasteful Joke Police,’ nor would the First Amendment permit that delegation…. By conflating candid discussions of crime with the disparagement of African-American communities, CFPB seeks to do just that. Under the First Amendment, it cannot.”
If you think Townstone’s case or other First Amendment cases you’ve heard about are isolated examples, you are dangerously uninformed.
The assault on free speech is massive. Much of the government, social media and the press are partners in the Censorship Industrial Complex. That term was coined by Michael Shellenberger, who laid out 56 pages of evidence in congressional testimony last year. The Missouri v Biden case, now on appeal and likely to go to the U.S. Supreme Court, is already blowing the lid off much of the unholy alliance. Read about the massive evidence of record, discussed in the trial court’s Independence Day order.
And if you think the assault on free speech isn’t ongoing in Illinois, you are again dangerously uninformed. Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul essentially thumbed his nose at the First Amendment when he personally drafted the Illinois law targeting alleged pro-life “misinformation” given out by crisis pregnancy groups near abortion clinics. A federal judge ridiculed it and enjoined its enforcement earlier this month. Chalk up that victory to another of the pro bono law firms available to help on First Amendment issues, the Thomas More Society.
Gov. JB Pritzker “is gaining a reputation as a hard-left culture warrior who is happy to silence political opponents,” as the Wall Street Journal recently said. “Pritzker apparently thinks that invoking the name Trump is a justification to get away with saying or doing anything. Not under the U.S. Constitution,” wrote the Journal.
He told CNN, “There ought to be a private right of action for anybody that’s dissuaded or told something that’s false, that’s the important thing.” That would be flagrantly unconstitutional.
Under the guise of banning book bans, the General assembly passed and Pritzker signed a bill delegating control over what books libraries carry to a group run by an open Marxist. Most recently, they passed an “anti-doxing” law that flies in the face of textbook First Amendment law, as we explained here.
Illinois Senators Durbin and Duckworth have been among the progressives jawboning tech platforms to do more censorship. And Illinois Congressman Sean Casten introduced a bill to strip courts of the power of judicial review — their power to declare laws invalid as violations of the First Amendment, or anything else.
Do not stand silent when your right to free speech is suppressed. Know that quality legal firms are often available for free. There are more beyond those I’ve mentioned here.
The assault on free speech must be defeated at all cost. Do your part.
Wed, 08/30/2023 – 18:20