Fighting for free speech for all Oklahomans

One of the best thought leaders on free speech was Frederick Douglass. While advocating for the freedom of all in the United States of America and advocating for the U.S. Constitution, he made two extremely relevant points: “To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker,” and, “Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist.”

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs works every day to shape culture, policy and politics for freedom.

For the better part of a year, we have been fighting for a crucial fundamental right: the First Amendment right to free speech and a free press.

Oklahomans and OCPA recently won a huge victory. The development of good government policy requires open public debate. When one side of a debate is gagged, poorly designed or harmful policies advance without question and working families pay the price.

Last spring, OCPA proudly advocated for sensible safety measures that would protect citizens from COVID-19 while also allowing their continued pursuit of their lives and livelihoods. This came when many businesses were being forced to close and many Oklahomans were losing their jobs. We argued for a better approach that would keep businesses safely open and Oklahomans employed.

At the same time, the CEO of Paycom, a $22 billion Oklahoma City-based tech company, was advocating for a broader suspension of businesses services and increased use of government’s power.

We referenced that fact in an article and linked directly to a letter by Paycom’s CEO endorsing those actions. In response, Paycom filed a meritless lawsuit, attempting to silence and cancel OCPA’s free-speech advocacy for working families.

The lawsuit received much publicity, as news outlets noted Paycom’s allegations against OCPA.

Paycom’s lawsuit has been dismissed — with prejudice. In the court’s order dismissing the case, the judge found that Paycom’s claims against OCPA “relate to or are in response to the OCPA’s exercise of the right to free speech,” noted the “absence of any evidence” that Paycom suffered any specific loss of business as the result of OCPA’s reporting, and noted the “absence of any evidence of actual malice by OCPA.”

In fighting for our free-speech rights, OCPA is fighting for the free-speech rights of all Oklahomans. If we can be silenced by the filing of meritless lawsuits, so can anyone.

At OCPA, we welcome open, robust debate. George Washington may have said it best: “For if Men are to be precluded from offering their Sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences, that can invite the consideration of Mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of Speech may be taken away, and, dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the Slaughter.”

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.