Health Care Activist Groups Sue the White House for Alleged Free Speech Violations

By Kevin Fayle on August 28, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Unless you haven't been watching the news lately (or unless you live in a country that doesn't have an 800-lb. health care problem in the room), you're probably aware that there's a health care debate raging in the United States right now.

Both sides of the debate have accused the other of spreading misinformation about what proposed reforms to the health care system actually entail.  As part of its effort to combat what it perceived as false claims about health care reform, the White House set up an email address where people could report any "fishy" information they came across.
After some members of Congress raised privacy concerns about the information that the White House was gathering through the email process, however, the White House stopped accepting emails through that address, and instead directed users to a page on the White House website where they could request more information on health care reform.  The site didn't explicitly request reports on misinformation, and requested that people contacting the White House through the site not disclose an individual's personal information without their permission.

Many groups weren't satisfied that this step went far enough in protecting their free speech rights, however.  Two of those groups, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and the Coalition for Urban Renewal and Education, have sued the White House for violations of the First Amendment and the Privacy Act. 

The groups claim in their lawsuit that the White House intended to chill their speech by collecting information on their political viewpoints with the intent of intimidating them into silence. 

The US News and World Report quotes Kathryn Serkes, AAPS' Director of Policy and Public Affairs as saying:

My hate mail started shortly after the White House issued the 'fishy' request.  We were quite visible and vocal before then, so it doesn't seem like a coincidence. Who did they share their data with? With whom might they share it?
If the plaintiffs' allegations are correct, then the White House should be held accountable for any attempts to suppress political speech.  The right to speak our minds is what keeps the American democratic system thriving and vibrant.

Where the lawsuit veers off course, however, is when it begins to discuss the actual substance of the health care debate.  It holds out the plaintiff's political positions as fact, rather than just explaining that the plaintiffs' positions go against those of the White House.

The health care debate is already rancorous, and it's guaranteed to grow more so as Congress returns from their August recess and the legislative process begins anew in earnest.  But, hey, it's politics - rancor is part of the political theater that, for better or worse, determines what laws govern our nation.

But the appropriate place for political debate is in the legislative arena, not the courtrooms.  If the White House broke the law, then they should suffer the consequences and correct the transgression, but the actual substance of the health care debate has little, if anything, to do with that.

Groups Sue White House over Health Care Debate
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