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GUEST OPINION

An open letter to the President

Dear President Obama:

As you know, health care reform is one of the critical issues confronting our nation today. I am concerned, however, that the quality of debate surrounding this issue will be damaged because of actions taken by your office.

Macon Phillips, the White House Director of New Media, recently wrote about the debate over your health care proposal. Phillips said: "There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there" that is circulating "via chain emails or through casual conversation."

Phillips solicits help to track the debate over health care reform. "Since we can't keep track of all of them here at the White House, we're asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to flag@whitehouse.gov.," Phillips says.

At best, this is an attempt to transform us into a nation of tattlers. At its worst, this is a serious assault on free speech. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says: "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech." Yet Mr. Phillips ignores the spirit of one of our founding principles and asks people to report dissenting views to the White House.

It is appalling that White House resources would be used in an attempt to stifle legitimate debate over such a momentous legislative proposal. The American people are right to vigorously discuss this bill, and it should be no surprise that there are strong opinions on both sides of the issue. But to target dissenting views is oppressive and harmful. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, "The ultimate test of a belief in free speech should be whether it can be extended to people you hate."

Asking citizens to report legitimate discourse to the government simply because one disagrees with the viewpoint is a waste of public resources, an assault on free speech, and is degrading to the Office of the President. We hope the White House will retract Mr. Phillips' comments and pledge its support for open, healthy debate.

- Michael Reitz is general counsel of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a free-market policy organization in Olympia.

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