America Having Reservations About Free Speech and College Grounds

Photo: ACLU

The free speech wars are intensifying across the nation. Everyone seems to know what the right answer is. However, not many even understand what the argument is, or even what is at stake.

On many college campuses, groups of left-leaning students insist that free speech should be conditional on speakers adhering to explicit standards of diversity and avoiding the infliction of emotional harm on the members of marginalized groups through the spreading of “hate.”

To make matters worse, a conspicuous bias against conservative views exists in higher education. College students from across the nation have testified on this matter before Congress, detailing the difficulties they have encountered in hosting conservative speakers on campus.

Those are the trends — and each one looks to the others like the onset of democratic decline.

There are those who have and will continue to stir up controversy intentionally. The list of people prevented from speaking, however, is not limited to the professional provocateur. In 2014, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice was pressured to withdraw from delivering a commencement speech at Rutgers University owing to protests. Ben Shapiro, who in 2015 was found by the Anti-Defamation League to be the leading target for anti-Semitic hate speech, was prevented from speaking at University of California, Berkley, because of violence. For universities to bow to thugs is shameful. Indeed, to silence speech for fear of reprisal is a cowardly, a surrender of our most basic constitutional rights.

Our Forefathers understood that this principle should not depend on the state people reside in. This early commitment to free speech has become an integral part of the American psyche. And despite various attempts to undermine free speech in our nation’s highest court, it remains clear that to limit speech because of the viewpoint it represents is unconstitutional. As Americans, we must recognize freedom of speech not only as an issue worthy of our respect and attention but as a constitutional imperative and one of the core principles upon which our nation was founded.

Isn’t it far better to encourage bad ideas to come out of the shadows, where those who espouse them can do battle (and face defeat) in their name? That’s the old liberal case for minimal restrictions on free speech — a case that will sound compelling so long as people have faith that the bad ideas, when publicly defended, will lose.

What happens when that faith begins to wane? We’re in the process of finding out.

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