Is punishing free speech OK? Rep. Chris Stewart says it depends.

Stewart suggests that proposed Liz Cheney demotion may be appropriate.

(Tom Williams | CQ Roll Call via AP Images) Reps. Tom O'Halleran, D-Ariz., left, and Chris Stewart, R-Utah, view rioters who broke into the Capitol during a joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College votes of 2020 presidential election on January 6, 2021.

At the same time that Rep. Chris Stewart says liberals are damaging freedom of speech by seeking to block books by aides to former President Donald Trump, he suggests that House Republicans still could justifiably punish a leader for the way she spoke up about impeachment.

Why is punishing one form of free speech bad and the other OK?

On a national Fox News interview over the weekend, Stewart said that House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney — the No. 3 ranking GOP member in the House — had a responsibility to use her speech to represent the entire conference, and not just her own views. But her support to impeach Trump was held high by Democrats in a way he said hurt most House Republicans.

“I do think when you take on responsibility of leadership that you do have an additional responsibility to represent the conference,” he said.

“If you are weakening the conference or if you put your members in positions that make it untenable for them, make it more difficult to justify their own vote or more difficult to become reelected or difficult to raise money, you make them a target of the Democrats … that puts you in a different situation than other members.”

At the same time, Stewart said the party should not seek to punish individual members who voted their conscience and supported impeachment.

Stewart also was asked in the interview about a letter signed now by 500 authors and literary professionals calling on publishers not to sign book deals with members of the Trump administration, saying “those who enabled, promulgated, and covered up crimes against the American people should not be enriched through the coffers of publishing.”

Stewart tore into that as a violation of freedom of speech.

“It’s just absurd,” he said. “Is their view going to be that if someone does publish these individuals, that they’ll go burn those books? They’ll ban them? I mean, for heaven’s sake, this is like Germany in 1936,” said Stewart, who is a best-selling author himself.

“If you’re not confident that you can defend your own ideas, your own values, then you default to that position of just shutting everything else down. And that’s exactly what we’re witnessing today. And it’s frankly just un-American.”

He complained that no similar calls went out against the left during riots and protests last summer protesting police mistreatment of Blacks.

“For six months we saw rioting, violent rioting, estimates of $1 billion to $2 billion of damage and not a peep about that,” Stewart said. House Speaker “Nancy Pelosi said, and others, there should be these uprisings. She asked them not to stop, to keep going until they achieve their goals.”

Stewart it was different when Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

“Then one day in January, the whole the whole script flipped and now everyone’s an insurrectionist. You know, again, the hypocrisy of it is just it’s mind boggling,” he said.

The Utah congressman is among a growing number of Republicans trying to equate the attack on the U.S. Capitol with the protests last summer against racial injustice.

But as the Associated Press has written, “the two events were fundamentally different. One was an intentional, direct attack on a hallowed democratic institution, with the goal of overturning a fair and free election. The other was a coast-to-coast protest movement demanding an end to systemic racism that occasionally, but not frequently, turned violent.”

Stewart said he believes books from all sides will not be blocked, and Americans can read them and be the ultimate judges of what is good or not.

“They can look at what happened in Portland and Seattle and Washington, D.C., and many other cities and then compare that with one day in January and say, ‘Well, you know, I think they’re both bad. we should condemn them both, not just condemn one side and not just try to silence one side,” he said.