Libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) made headlines last week for single-handedly obstructing the renewal of the Patriot Act, calling the law an unconstitutional infringement on civil liberties. His demand to insert a series of amendments to weaken the law nearly allowed it to lapse and put the country at “risk,” but Paul said it was worth it to prevent the government from continuing to “blatantly ignor[e] the Constitution.” But when Paul went on Fox News host Sean Hannity’s radio show Friday to discuss his opposition to the national security law, he suggested implementing a far more serious infringement on civil liberties. While discussing profiling at airports, Paul called for the criminalization of speech:
PAUL: I’m not for profiling people on the color of their skin, or on their religion, but I would take into account where they’ve been traveling and perhaps, you might have to indirectly take into account whether or not they’ve been going to radical political speeches by religious leaders. It wouldn’t be that they are Islamic. But if someone is attending speeches from someone who is promoting the violent overthrow of our government, that’s really an offense that we should be going after — they should be deported or put in prison.
Paul’s suggestion that people be imprisoned or deported for merely attending a political speech would be a fairly egregious violation on the First Amendment, not to mention due process. What if someone attended a radical speech as a curious bystander? Should they too be thrown in prison? And who defines what is considered so “radical” that it is worth imprisonment?
But Paul’s suggestion is especially appalling coming from someone who fashions himself as a staunch defender of civil liberties. Since coming to Congress, Paul has received praise from libertarians and liberals alike for supposedly being consistent on the issue, and he often speaks of civil liberties in speeches and TV appearances.
However, aside from his admirable stance on the Patriot Act, Paul’s record shows he’s hardly the paragon of civil liberties he claims to be, but rather is “indistinguishable from the rest of the GOP on national security issues,” noted The American Prospect’s Adam Serwer last year. He’s said he will “always fight” to keep GITMO open; has said “[f]oreign terrorists do not deserve the protections of our Constitution;” and has never taken a strong public stance against torture, staying silent most recently after the killing of Osama bin Laden.
“I believe that America can successfully protect itself against potential terrorists without sacrificing civil liberties,” his website says. Apparently speech is not a civil liberty.