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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

SALLY MORRIS:  PART 1 - FREEDOM OF SPEECH 101: IS FREE SPEECH STILL RELEVANT IN 2018?

Philadelphia, December 15, 1791

“Amendment 1.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for redress of grievances.”

 

Our Founding Fathers obviously regarded the free expression of the individual to be of paramount importance, so much so that they gave it preeminence among the enumerated rights without which they were convinced the Constitution might fail to be ratified and dissolution of union ensue.

What makes free speech important?  Is it, in fact? Is it even a good idea?  Is it problematic or is it essential? Is it relevant today?  We do know one thing: the right of free expression is under assault in 2018.

If you have any doubt, consider a Pew study which finds that 40% of “millennials” (ages 18-34) believe the government should be able to prevent people from saying anything which offends minorities.  Although we should be alarmed by this view, perhaps we should not be surprised because these young Americans have been most recently exposed to the indoctrination of our colleges and universities, although one could argue that it didn’t begin there.

Two or three generations raised not by parents and extended families with family history to share, but in fluorescently lit institutional daycares, presided over by overworked surrogates indifferent to anyone’s family history and least of all their country’s, have not learned about the Constitution which has guided America’s astonishing success, nor the Bill of Rights which covenants with us our freedoms, first among them the right to voice our opinions.  

These institutions, together with a crippled education system which has failed adequately to teach our kids to read for themselves, has left them with the conviction that free speech has “limits”.  They truly believe that one’s "feelings" trump another’s right to voice an opinion.

Their view differs from that of British philosopher John Stuart Mill, who also considered the question of freedom of speech.  His exploration of the topic led him to the conclusion that free expression is vital to any search for truth. In his treatise On Liberty, Mill, known as above all else a pragmatist, said free speech is required in order to distill the truth, for only by exposing all views and debating them could it be found.  Mill further believed that silencing an opinion robbed not only the one who holds it but the whole human race, not only the present but posterity and not only the one who holds it but those who dissent from it as well.  

Mill stated that academia’s mission was not to instruct as to what students are duty-bound to believe, but rather, to “help us to form our own belief in a manner worthy of intelligent beings.”  His views are not reflected in today’s institutions of higher learning, where our college students feel aggressive toward any opinions which diverge from the accepted orthodoxy.

In one notable example, conservative broadcaster and commentator, Ben Shapiro, was scheduled to address an audience at California State University at the invitation of the Young Americans for Freedom organization, to find the YAF charged $600 for “extra security” due to the “controversial” nature of his topic.  Then the administration attempted to cancel the whole event with the suggestion that they have Shapiro participate in a “more inclusive” event at another time. This was rejected by the YAF and Shapiro and his event did go on. It is a rare event to have a conservative speaker on a university campus, while hundreds of left-leaning people are heard throughout the year.  When he did appear, various diversionary tactics were employed, students demonstrated to attempt to shut him down or silence him - to no avail in this case.

“Free speech on college campuses, particularly publicly-sponsored campuses,” said Shapiro, “is not merely a necessity, it’s a right.  That right is being quashed all across the country by administrators who are significantly more intent on indoctrinating students and eliminating dissent than giving students the opportunity to hear different ideas and reach their own conclusions about those ideas. It’s time for that to stop.”


 

 

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