San Francisco's "war on big soda" takes a toll on First Amendment rights

August 05, 2016 | By WENCONG FA

San Francisco wants to be the City that takes down big soda. San Francisco’s “war on soda” is not itself problematic for free speech rights. Rather, it is the City’s tactics that has given rise to all sorts of First Amendment problems. Specifically, San Francisco did not use its own channels to broadcast its disdain for big soda. It has chosen instead to force soda advertisers — who want to broadcast their viewpoint that soda is desirable — to dedicate 20% of all advertisements for the government’s viewpoint that soda is bad.

On Wednesday, Pacific Legal Foundation filed this amicus brief, which argues that San Francisco’s tactics in the City’s war on soda violate the First Amendment. Because all speakers must choose between what to say and what to leave unsaid, the First Amendment protects both the freedom to speak and the freedom not to speak. The fact that government-compelled speech necessarily alters the speech of private citizens is plainly apparent in this case. If the San Francisco Ordinance were allowed to stand, soda advertisements will contain messages that directly contradict each other (soda is good! soda is bad!). Some will be misled by such advertisements. Others will be confused. All should be repulsed by the government’s violation of free speech rights.