There is no agency more feared in Washington or that holds more power over hardworking American families and small businesses than the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
That’s why so much shock and anger erupted nearly a decade ago when the IRS started knocking on doors and delivering notices of audits to donors to conservative politicians and right-leaning non-profits.
IRS chief Lois Lerner and her agents had targeted families, businesses, and non-profits based on their conservative political leanings, drawing the ire of Congress and an American public appalled that their government would single out citizens simply because they held beliefs opposed to those in power.
At that time, I spoke out against the Obama administration’s overreach.
I had friends and supporters who had never been audited by the IRS before in their lives being targeted.
I saw non-profits that were doing great work advocating for conservative leaning causes and, more importantly, helping people in our communities now being hammered by the most feared agency in Washington.
It was a scandal of Orwellian proportions.
Americans were right to be outraged.
Congress was right to hold hearings.
And the media was right to shine a spotlight on these wrongs.
Thankfully, the Obama administration’s overreach was exposed; however, the concerns that arose then are a fight we still wage today.
Exercising our First Amendment — whether it be through faith, through the press, or through monetary donations — has been a uniquely American tradition upheld by the Supreme Court, most recently in the case of Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta, 594 U.S. ___, (2021).
As conservatives we were disgusted by the Obama administration’s tactics because we believe in an individual’s right to free speech and we are committed to defending that right— even if we feverously oppose what you are saying.
Why do we defend the right to freedom of expression?
Because it's foundational that an individual is able to express their views without being exposed to political condemnation or governmental retribution.
Our nation cannot act as a functioning republic if her people are afraid of political payback, whether it be from those in the community, their employers, or their government.
Weaponizing the government for their purposes is what the left does, not what conservatives do, but now some on the right are seeking to "out" donors of liberal causes. I appreciate their frustration with liberal "dark money," but conservatives’ ends of exposing a liberal agenda does not justify their means.
As damaging as Lerner’s campaign against conservative donors and advocacy groups was a decade ago, the repercussions today can be so much greater.
The use of social media, and the variety of social media platforms now online, has expanded exponentially and their use to demonize anyone or any group for their work has the real potential to silence speech at a time when we need more voices, not less.
While conservatives have warmed to the idea of chilling free speech, liberals have continued their campaign against conservative donors and groups through the introduction of hypocritically titled legislation like the "For the People Act" and the "DISCLOSE Act."
And in the Biden administration, there is continued pressure for additional regulations to bring "transparency" to nonprofits and their donors.
The legacy of Lois Lerner lives on.
Conservatives, don’t take their bait.
We stand for our Constitution, not just when we are in power but also when we are out of power. Our system of government was built to protect the minority opinion, and if we hope to continue to be the beacon of freedom to the World, it is incumbent on us to protect those freedoms here at home.
To paraphrase a great Pennsylvanian, we are only a republic if we can continue to keep it.
Rick Santorum is Newsmax's Senior Political Analyst and served two terms in both the House of Representatives and Senate.
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