Two years ago this weekend the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed one of the most cherished rights Americans have enjoyed for over two centuries – freedom of speech. The ruling amounted to a rebuke of the Michigan Education Association, which had sued the Mackinac Center for Public Policy for quoting words uttered by the union’s president at his own news conference.
When then-MEA President Luigi Battaglieri told reporters, "Frankly, I admire what they [the Mackinac Center] have done," he was exercising his free-speech rights to tell the world his thoughts about one of the nation’s most influential state-based policy institutes. We were gratified by his very public words and we repeated them publicly. But we were shocked by his subsequent attempt to use the courts to silence us.
Disposing of the MEA’s lawsuit, the judges said the Mackinac Center’s speech "falls squarely within the protection of the First Amendment …."
The MEA, and everyone else for that matter, has the right to say what they think of the Mackinac Center’s research. The union even has the right to tell teachers to stop reading Mackinac Center journals. Like MEA officials, we don’t agree with everything we hear. But we believe the remedy for speech with which you disagree is more free speech, not a muzzle on the speaker.
That’s one reason we haven’t sued the union for publishing various complaints about Mackinac Center studies and reports on education over the years, even when they negatively characterize us or call us names. We understand the union is merely exercising free speech to protect its own financial and political interests. Instead of suing, we’ve submitted our own ideas to the court of public opinion. Meanwhile, the union has continued to sue its competitors.
Two years ago, the court of public opinion decisively sided with the Mackinac Center in affirming free speech and denouncing attempts to silence it. And that is worth commemorating at least once a year.
Joseph G. Lehman is executive vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a nonpartisan research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich.