Anthony Fauci was the central figure in the US government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also perhaps the most controversial. He was lauded by many but maligned by probably at least as many others. His portrayal of himself as the embodiment of the science surrounding infectious diseases, while often giving out conflicting advice on the efficacy of masks, vaccines, and immunity did nothing to boost his credibility. Now, he has been ordered by a federal judge to sit for a deposition in a lawsuit relating to the pandemic response. He’s not the only one; several other Biden administration officials will also be deposed. But this is not a case about the vaccines, the lockdowns, or the masks – at least not directly. It is about free speech, censorship, and the White House’s alleged collusion with social media companies to squelch “disfavored” information and opinions.
The suit claims that the Biden administration violated certain people’s First Amendment rights by colluding with social media companies to censor individuals and viewpoints that went against the official narrative. According to US District Judge Terry Doughty’s order, the following government officials are to be deposed:
“(1) NIAID Director and White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, (2) Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of White House Digital Strategy Rob Flaherty, (3) former White House Senior COVID-19 Advisory Andrew Slavitt, (4) former White House Press Secretary Jennifer Psaki, (5) FBI Supervisory Special Agent Elvis Chan, (6) CISA [Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency] Director Jen Easterly, (7) CISA official Lauren Protentis, (8) Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, (9) CDC Chief of the Digital Media Branch Carol Crawford, and (10) Acting Coordinator of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center Daniel Kimmage.”
Doughty wrote, “On May 5, 2022, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint against Defendants. In the Complaint and Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs allege Defendants have colluded with and/or coerced social media companies to suppress disfavored speakers, viewpoints, and content on social media platforms by labeling the content ‘dis-information,’ ‘mis-information,’ and ‘mal-information.’ Plaintiffs allege the suppression of disfavored speakers, viewpoints, and contents constitutes government action and violates Plaintiffs’ freedom of speech in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
The Wholesale Censorship of ‘Disfavored’ Views
For the past two years it has been practically impossible to post “disfavored” content relating to the pandemic and the response to it. Opinions, statistics, and even scientific data or studies that question the usefulness of masks, the negative consequences of lockdowns, or the safety and effectiveness of vaccines have been quickly shut down. The posters had their accounts restricted, suspended, or were even banned from the platforms. Anyone who touted the importance and effectiveness of natural immunity or promoted alternatives to the COVID-19 vaccines were likewise penalized.
In his order, the judge listed various additional topics that, the suit alleges, were flagged for censorship on social media due to Biden administration interference. Those subjects include “the Hunter Biden laptop story prior to the 2020 Presidential election,” discussion of “the lab leak theory of COVID-19’s origin,” and “speech about election integrity and the security of voting by mail.”
Several pages of the judge’s order were devoted to Dr. Fauci. As the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and chief medical advisor to the president, Fauci got a lot of television airtime, during which he is on record as making contradictory statements about the efficacy of masks and the level of protection provided by vaccines.
Ironically, while the official advice continued to “evolve,” critics of the pandemic response were being accused of spreading “misinformation.”
The lawsuit is led by Eric Schmitt and Jeff Landry, the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana, respectively. The plaintiffs are represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance, which describes itself as a nonpartisan and nonprofit civil rights group founded “to protect constitutional freedoms from violation by the Administrative State.”
Also named as plaintiffs are Dr. Jayanta Bhattacharya, a co-author of the Great Barrington Declaration, psychiatrist and medical ethicist Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, Jill Hines, co-director of Health Freedom Louisiana and Reopen Louisiana, and Jim Hoft, owner of The Gateway Pundit. All these individuals were heavily censored or banned from social media platforms.
So, this is not a fight over science or how science is interpreted for political reasons. The issue is not whether the pandemic response succeeded or failed. Nor is this a question of whether companies that operate social media platforms can engage in censorship. The central alleged transgression, here, is the administration’s active encouragement – and even coercion, as Doughty describes it – of private companies to restrict freedom of speech to protect an official government position from independent analysis or criticism. The First Amendment explicitly prevents the creation of federal laws that restrict free speech. It is for constitutional scholars and lawyers to determine whether this lawsuit should succeed or fail, then, but should executive branch officials be working with private entities to censor information for political reasons? If they can be permitted to do so with impunity, then Americans’ First Amendment right to free speech is lost forever, regardless of whether Congress has made a law to restrict it.
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