Health Freedom and Freedom of Speech


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by James Corbett
25 July, 2012

Of the many constitutionally-guaranteed rights of the American public that the federal government has sought to destroy in recent decades, the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech is arguably the most important. If the ability for citizens to express themselves in the political, personal and commercial spheres are infringed, abridged, restricted or regulated by government agencies, this is one of the most obvious hallmarks of tyranny.

Some restrictions on that freedom of speech are universally recognized. No one argues, for instance, that the ability to yell “fire” in a crowded theatre is an activity protected by the First Amendment. Similarly the ability of a crooked businessman to knowingly lie about a product in a way that will cause that consumer actual harm is not regarded as protected speech. Using this principle as its justification, the Food and Drug Administration has appointed itself arbiter of what commercial speech is acceptable or unacceptable when it comes to marketing vitamins, supplements, foods, drugs, and other health products. Like every other form of government-imposed authority, however, that position of arbitration has been abused, corrupted, and, ultimately, used as an instrument to shut down competition from companies who threaten the business interests of the lobbyists and industry insiders that themselves populate the FDA.

Whether it be the shutting down of websites that so much as host a link to Harvard University studies about the health benefits of cherries or cracking down on companies that dare to refer to the product they are selling in their own promotional materials, the FDA has shown itself time and time again to be interested in nothing more than imposing a bewildering, self-contradictory set of impossible rules on the marketplace. These rules insure that the FDA has the power to decide which companies survive and which companies must fold, simply by deciding which companies to impose their arbitrary laws on.

Strange, too, is the fact that large corporations often seem to win rulings with the FDA that upholds their “free speech” rights against popular opposition.

Consumer safety is the ostensible reason that the FDA uses to justify its authority to intervene in the commercial sphere and choose winners and losers. In the name of the greatest good of the greatest number, we are told, the FDA must insert itself as the umpire in the arena of the marketplace, stopping businesses that would break the rules by inherently misleading consumers.

As laudable as this stance sounds in theory, what it amounts to, in practice, is a complete abrogation of the basic precepts of the First Amendment. By placing prior restrictions on the speech of health product manufacturers, the FDA is essentially flaunting the very principle of free speech. This is a point that Rand Paul recently brought to the floor of the Senate when introducing an amendment to the FDA User Fee Reauthorization Bill.

As dire as things are for Americans under the reign of the FDA, how much more dire is it for those in polities around the world that have no recourse to such constitutionally-guaranteed rights as the freedom of speech. In America there is always the hope, however misplaced, that the government can somehow be made to obey its own laws and the right to free speech will be preserved. But in most other countries, there is no such constitutional protection of speech.

At best, there is a tenuous legal case history indicating a tradition of speech protection, but such traditions are by their very nature unstated and subject to constant reinterpretation.

On May 5, 2012, Leon Pittard, the host of an online talk show in Australia, conducted an interview with Meryl Dorey of the Australian Vaccination Network. In that interview, she talked of her own experience using black salve to cure her cancer. A complaint was filed with the Australian authorities and within a month the Complaints Resolution Panel had sent Mr. Pittard a notice that he is under investigation for having posted that program to the internet. If the panel decides that his guest's statements of her personal experience run contrary to Australian law, he may be forced to take the offending program off his website and publish a government-mandated “correction” of the information.

Last week, Leon Pittard joined me on The Corbett Report to discuss his own case with the Australian authorities.

For the government to presume to be able to regulate what you or I can say about our own personal experiences is a bizarre state of affairs no matter how one attempts to justify it. This problem, like so many other government-created problems, is one that has been fostered by a political climate where lobbyists can use the regulatory body as their enforcement arm against their competition.

And, like so many government-created problems, it is allowed to fester because the public has become convinced that government itself is not an instrument of power and violence, but a surrogate parent who is there to watch over us and protect us from all possible evil. In this nanny role, a significant section of the public truly believes that it is up to bureaucrats in Washington or Canberra or Ottawa or Tokyo or some other capital to stop others from lying to us. How much simpler would this problem be if we were to take responsibility for our own choices, and to assume a position of skepticality when someone claims unlikely health benefits from their products?

But the dream of a day when the public is ready to let go of the mental crutch that is government is for the time being just that: a dream. And until we realize that dream, we must support moves in law to enshrine the principle of free speech and to take the power of arbitration out of the hands of corrupt agencies like the FDA.

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