Gary Johnson is Not the Free Speech Candidate

Gary Johnson

This past week, shortly after he announced he was mounting a second run for the presidency, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s 2012 presidential nominee, shocked libertarians with his declaration (to at least three news sources) that the face covering worn by many Muslim women, the burqa, should be banned from public places.  Though Johnson later retracted the comment (after much condemnation from libertarians), it provides evidence that his instincts on free expression, particularly of unpopular views, swing statist rather than libertarian.

Justifying his support for the burqa ban, Johnson told Reason, the wearing of a burqa reflects a political statement more so than a religious practice.  Thus, to Johnson, a ban would not be unconstitutional.  However, the landmark Supreme Court decision of Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist. held the wearing of certain clothing (anti-war armbands) was protected political speech.  The Supreme Court has continually reaffirmed, most recently in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, that political speech is a fundamental right under the First Amendment that may not be limited based on viewpoint in public fora.  Perhaps Johnson missed that lesson in civics class.

Nevertheless, the problem with Johnson’s misunderstanding of the First Amendment is more than academic.  To Johnson, unpopular political speech such as wearing a burqa (which he believes represents oppressive Sharia Law) can be banned because, well, the majority disapproves of the speech.  This view on speech entails a dangerous precedent for dissent in America.  How can there be dissent if dissenting views can be silenced in public spaces?

Though Reason expressed surprise at Johnson’s proclamation, those following Johnson closely enough could have sensed his statist streak on speech.  As recently as August, as he mulled a run, Johnson sent out an e-mail blast in which he deemed the term “anchor babies” as “offensive.”

This rhetoric repeats the language game of political correctness.  Political correctors like Johnson, attack the words of the dissent based on how their language affects someone’s feelings.  This ignores the substance in the words of the dissent and silences potential nonconformists who wish to avoid offense.  As argued here, use of the State follows.

By arguing that as president he could sign a bill into law banning certain forms of unpopular expression, Johnson took the leap to involving the State.

Clearly, Johnson is not the candidate of free speech.  Rather, he appears inclined to use the State to enforce moral guidelines and silence dissent.


7 responses to “Gary Johnson is Not the Free Speech Candidate

  1. I don’t think this is going to be the Libs’ year to go forward, and not because the GOP leans more fascist than libertarian, and not because Johnson demonstrates a little bit of that good ol’ fashioned racism in the Ron Paul tradition with his initial burqa reaction.

    If the Rethuglicans split in two, as rumored, with an establishment “indy” ticket running against a Trump one — or a Cruz one — under the R banner, and Jim Webb also makes a run, then there just aren’t many votes left for Johnson.


  2. I agree that Johnson’s wrong on the burqa. However, you’re wrong in saying that someone personally calling something “offensive” is anti-free speech. In that case, everybody in America would be so, because, short of sociopaths, some word in the English language offends everybody.

    Plus, you’re citing his comment in the email out of context. He said “let’s move on” and set that aside, etc.


    • Johnson refused to discuss the issue. Rather, he decided to deem the term “offensive” and then “move on.” This is an anti-free speech tactic called political correctness and it should be called out for what it is. I have no problem with one being offended. There’s nothing wrong with that feeling. But when one uses that feeling as the entire basis for his argument and attempts to eliminate the use of certain key words, he attempts to limit free speech and the liberty of dissent.


  3. “As recently as August, as he mulled a run, Johnson sent out an e-mail blast in which he deemed the term “anchor babies” as “offensive.”

    Who DOESN’T consider the term “anchor babies” offensive???
    HOWEVER, there is no Constitutional Right to be ‘protected’ from being offended!

    I use the term, myself, to describe the ‘offspring’ of those white Europeans who came to ‘america’ and bred the army that ultimately deposed, disposed & dispossessed the indigenous peoples of the continent.
    From the 1490s when Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas to the end of the 19th century, the indigenous population of the Western Hemisphere declined, mostly from disease, to 1.8 million from around 50 million, a decline of 96%;


  4. I am not sure of the motivation of the writer, but I must say this: I know Gary Johnson. I have spent several weeks with him off and on, sometimes just the two of us ruminating on “things”. He has been a guest in my home, and at my dinner table. Hell, he has even taken me out for ice cream.

    I say those things to explain that I know the Governors’ feelings on speech and other matters of liberty extremely well. He is staunchly libertarian on everything that has to do with individual rights. His burqa comment was not an attempt to deny anything, but out of his concern for the rights and well being of Muslim women. It may have been misplaced, but on reflection he recognized the double-edged sword and confessed his error. If only more politicians had the honesty and intestinal fortitude to do likewise.


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