Issue 104, Spring 2007

NCAC participated in a March 12th congressional briefing to urge the 110th Congress to protect First Amendment principles, and to remedy damaging measures enacted in the past several years. Here are some of the key issues currently under consideration.

NCAC’s latest report, “Political Science,” makes the case that government censorship of science is a threat to democratic principles as well as to public health and the environment. While the media has recently exposed efforts to suppress climate change research, NCAC’s report documents incidents at many of the federal science agencies, on matters as varied as fish and pharmaceuticals. Fortunately, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who claimed that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” is no longer chair of the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which censor information about contraceptive use, has soared to more than $170 million annually. Despite a lack of evidence to support these programs’ effectiveness in reducing teen pregnancy or the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, President Bush’s budget calls for an additional $28 million in funding. Key Democrats, however, are beginning to agitate for a saner approach. In January, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced the Prevention First Act, a bill that would require medical accuracy in federally funded education programs, opening the door for grants to fund comprehensive sex education. In the House, Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA) introduced a similar measure, with a focus on minority communities.

Though many states have a reporter’s shield law, the federal government has expanded its use of subpoenas against journalists, underscoring the need for a federal statute to safeguard a free press. 2006 witnessed several landmark cases, including the CIA leak investigation, the Army’s subpoena of reporters in connection with Iraq war resister Lt. Ehren Watada’s court-martial, and 8 months behind bars for 24 year-old Josh Wolf, who refused to turn over footage to FBI investigators.

Widely criticized as a threat to Internet freedom, last year’s Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) sought to block interactive Web sites from federally funded libraries and schools in the presumed interest of protecting children. Yet the bill defined these technologies in terms so broad that many educationally beneficial sites could have been affected, and it ultimately failed to pass into law. Even so, two DOPA-inspired bills have already been introduced this year, and while they make some concessions to First Amendment concerns, it’s vital to ensure that these bills do not infringe on constitutionally protected speech. Democrats recently empowered by the changing of the guard include tech-savvy Reps. Ed Markey (D-MA) and John Dingell (D-MI), while Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), much-lampooned for describing the Internet as “a series of tubes,” has been replaced as the chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation by Daniel Inouye (D-HI).

With promising legislation and key allies now in place, it’s a perfect time for action.