Cancelling Liberty

Phill Kline Commentary: Canceling Liberty

My first brush with cancel culture was in the ninth grade in 1975. Corporate daycare operators teamed with the state to cancel my mom’s in-home daycare referral business, which competed with corporate daycare. The “corporate connected” successfully pushed for new regulations to effectively shut down in-home daycare to control and enhance their market.

Much regulation is designed for this purpose.

In 2005, cancel culture came to destroy my professional career. As Attorney General of Kansas, I came into possession evidence that children as young as 10, 11, and 12 years old were receiving abortions in Kansas. These children were victims of child rape, and I sought the abortion records to act to protect those children. That investigation also revealed evidence of criminal late-term abortion and that the abortion clinics had not reported the child rapes as required by law.

The abortion clinics ran to the Kansas Supreme Court appointees of then-Kansas Governor and abortion supporter Kathleen Sebelius. That court, in turn, came after me with spurious ethics allegations. The Kansas Supreme Court converted an investigation based on uncontroverted evidence of child rape into an investigation of me, and in doing so cancelled my ability to pursue my chosen calling of practicing law by suspending my law license.

Initially, I received the allegations with a light heart. The Court’s ethics administrator claimed it was unethical for me to launch an investigation into child rape without the child filing a complaint regarding their rape. Absurd, I thought. Children do not report their own rape, which is the very reason medical providers are required to report child molestation.

They also alleged it was unethical for me to investigate abortion clinics since I was personally opposed to abortion. I replied that I was anti-murder and investigated murder! The same goes for rape.

Surely, I thought, the bar association and others would see through this political attack. They did not.

My defense did not matter. The truth did not matter. Children did not matter. The aim was to cancel me to undermine the investigation. After years, they succeeded.

Now, we are witnessing the full bloom of cancel culture as our government justifies attacking individuals who have the temerity to question government. The chill of fear is in the air, and American freedom is in danger because those who should speak let their fear or political biases keep them silent.

Any nation yearning for freedom must be composed of people willing to protect the freedom of those with whom they disagree.

That’s not the case any more in America. Instead, we are criminalizing speech and thought, and wielding the state apparatus to punish enemies of those in authority is being touted as virtuous.

Recently, Attorney General Merrick Garland, America’s chief law enforcement officer, cast his powerful eye on the state legislature of Arizona, announcing he was watching them, closely.

The AG oversees the 35,000-plus employees of the FBI, 350 Assistant United States Attorneys (prosecutors), and 94 United States Attorneys (Chief Prosecutors). Moreover, federal prosecutors enforce more federal criminal provisions than researchers can number.

There were just over 50 federal crimes when our Constitution was ratified. A few years back, Congress asked the Congressional Research Service to identify and count all federal crimes. They tried. They could not. There are too many to count.

Believe me, when the head honcho of the Department of Justice says he is watching, it is frightening.

Moreover, the Democrat Party is now enthralled with identity politics – the belief that your rights are not inherent, but rather dependent upon your group identity. If you are a member of a favored group, you have greater rights – and if you are part of a disfavored group, you have lesser rights, if any at all.

This is what happens when you believe the greatest engine for progress is not individuals exercising their freedom, but rather government action. You worship government. And anything, or anyone, that questions the authority of government is the enemy of progress.

We witnessed this with Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, whose internal emails reveal she tried to manipulate state police to arrest an immigrant restaurant owner prior to her appearing on Tucker Carlson to criticize Nessel and her ally, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

I witnessed it as The Amistad Project, which I direct, defended One Nation, a group formed by black urban pastors who reject cancel culture. One Nation was threatened with arrest if they gathered or marched, while Governor Whitmer personally marched with Black Lives Matter members in downtown Detroit.

It is visible in the pretrial detention and solitary confinement of those entering the Capitol building on January 6th, and the release and non-charging of those who committed violence during this past summer of protest.

Identity politics treats groups of Americans differently, violating a basic tenet of Western jurisprudence and a critical protector of individual freedom – equality before the law.

And AG Garland’s choice to threaten those who question his narrative, even when this questioning is forwarded by a state legislative body exercising their constitutional authority to review elections, is an expression of identity politics.

Attorney General Garland deceived, attempted to marginalize, and then threatened a group that holds views different than his own.

First, he claimed that all concerns justifying these audits had already been refuted and rejected by courts and investigators. Not true. Many cases are ongoing. Other cases failed because of a “lack of standing,” which is merely a procedural matter. No trials have occurred, and some cases sided with those concerned about the lawlessness of the 2020 election.

In Michigan, a court recently struck down the unlawful decision of Secretary of State Benson ordering election clerks to presume signatures match on absentee ballots. In Georgia, a state court judge has ordered an audit after reviewing evidence of potential fraud.

And this week, investigative journalists with the Georgia Star revealed that Fulton County does not have the chain of custody records for close to 20,000 absentee ballots as required by law, prompting Georgia’s Secretary of State to take another look at the Georgia election that Mr. Biden won by 12,000 votes out of 5 million cast.

This evidence joins the admissions of left-leaning local election officials that they violated state law (because of COVID they claim), and the uncontroverted fact that one person, Mark Zuckerberg, spent more money on the election than the federal government and dictated how government would manage the election and actually paid election judges.

Yet, in the face of all this, Mr. Garland’s chief concern is that people and state legislators are criticizing government, thereby “undermining democracy.”

Criticism and public comment are the lifeblood of a democratic republic. In fact, petitioning our government regarding our grievances is a right enshrined in our Constitution – that dusty old parchment that is a thorn in the side of modern progressives.

The Attorney General had a choice. He could have partnered with the legislature, asked to review procedures, and offer suggestions to ensure rights were protected. He did not. He just threatened.

He assumed those with differing viewpoints have illegal motives. This is a very dangerous assumption for the Department of Justice and one which, until now, has not been supported in law.

We have weaponized our institutions, weaponized licensing boards and ethics enforcement, and we are weaponizing the law.

Many on the right and the left receive these trends with a light heart. They either look the other way when in power or cherish the opportunity to use the law to punish their enemies when they gain power. Either way, they are dancing with the devil.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. stated and history teaches, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Civil libertarians in both parties cannot afford to remain silent. We must fight for our common ground as free citizens, or we will no longer remain free.

By Phill Kline

Phill Kline is the Former Kansas Attorney General. He currently serves as Pulpit Pastor of Amherst Baptist Church, a law school professor, and director of the Amistad Project of The Thomas More Society. Previously, he served as president of the Midwest Association of Attorneys General, was on the Executive Committee of the National Association of Attorneys General, and was co-chairperson of the Violent Sexual Predator Apprehension Task Force. He was a Kansas House member for eight years where he chaired the Appropriations Committee and the Taxation Committee and authored victims’ rights laws and welfare reform.