George Orwell ominously warned “but if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” In a nation premised on the ultimate rebellion, the government would never police speech to conform to one narrative, would it? Orwell’s words were not predictors of free speech’s demise, were they?
Unfortunately, like metastatic cancer, the government has indeed been inserting itself into every facet of our speech.
Arguably the most important free speech case before the Supreme Court this term is NCLA’s Murthy v. Missouri—a case expected to set an important precedent regarding just how intertwined the government can be with social media companies in controlling online speech. Unearthed emails in the case reflecting White House and Twitter officials plotting their “swift takedown” of disfavored posts illustrate a First Amendment violation in its most blatant form. But in what other covert, insidious ways does the government manipulate the American mind?
As children we were taught that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But words are actually very powerful. In fact, words shape how we think and feel, and they leave a footprint on our psyche.
Our founders understood this. Our Constitution stands firmly on natural law—the idea that certain rights are ordained. Ordained rights cannot be taken away by any man, and those rights most certainly include speech. In fact, as explained by one university’s Free Speech Center, “the rights of the First Amendment are thought to be fundamental because they deal with matters of conscience, thought, and expression.” In the context of religion, Thomas Jefferson stated, “but our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit.”
The government has no place intruding on our thoughts, nor does it have any right to form the words that leave our mouths. However, the government appears to be peering into our conscience, plotting ways to manipulate how we think and act with small, seemingly insignificant changes. Don’t believe it? Here are just a few small instances of governmental gaslighting through altered language.
The National Institutes of Health, an agency inside the Department of Health and Human Services, published on its website how to address gender pronouns in the workplace. NIH warns, “intentional refusal to use someone’s correct pronouns is equivalent to harassment and violation of one’s civil rights.” It even provides sample signature blocks that are acceptable to NIH. The government here is actively promoting the notion that God does not choose gender, but rather individuals are the author of that choice.
The White House’s 2022 budget began using the term “birthing people” rather than women or mothers, making the government the authority on apparently a new view of human biology.
A Louisiana man was arrested in 2020 by nearly a dozen gun-pointing police officers for making a joke about COVID on Facebook. The charges were eventually dropped, and a jury recently awarded him more than $200,000 for trampling on his civil liberties, but the arrest suggests a nanny-state mindset that free people are incapable of deciphering parody from truth.
Immigration enforcement employees have been instructed to stop referring to border-crossing migrants as “aliens,” purportedly because it is a “dated term that many people consider offensive.” Never mind that the laws on the books used this “dated” word. The government, through its words, sees no border on the United States.
The White House has also called on Amazon to suppress books that were skeptical or anti-vaccination during the peak of COVID, making it the sole expert on the “science” behind COVID vaccinations.
And on and on it goes. Truthful and accurate criticism of government policy is recast as “malinformation.” Our fallen military heroes are now “folks.” Mainstream views held by millions of Americans are “extremist.” Those who criticize the party in power are dangerous threats to “our democracy.”
As one federal judge recently lamented, “the United States Government seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth.’” Here’s hoping that a favorable ruling in Murthy v. Missouri will deter the government’s insatiable desire to control our language and thought. Once citizens take back the power to speak and think, the government will have no choice but to retreat.