Free Speech

Universities are struggling to balance the free exchange of ideas with students’ growing desire to be shielded from offensive views, a philosophical divide at the heart of recent protests that have roiled campuses around the country.

That’s the opening paragraph of Dan Frosch’s and Tamara Audi’s Friday piece in The Wall Street Journal. There’s no struggle here, though, except in the minds of school administrators and professors too timorous, too disrespectful of free speech to be fit to hold their positions.

While the tension between political correctness and open discourse has riven colleges for decades, a hunger strike and protests over racial incidents that forced out the University of Missouri’s president on Monday have supercharged the debate.

This is a coarse misunderstanding, and not only by Frosch and Audi, but by the precious little snowflakes at each of those universities and colleges. There is no such tension at all. What is politically incorrect is the attempt to control discourse in order to protect the self-proclaimed too-fragile from the vicissitudes of life.

Freedom of speech begins, of necessity, with protecting the most offensive, the most uncomfortable of speech. As soon as governments begin banning the most offensive or uncomfortable speech, the definition of “offensive” and of “uncomfortable” begins to be elevated. In very short order, indeed, today’s ordinary, inoffensive, comfortable (and comforting) speech becomes offensive and uncomfortable. Especially to the men in government who now are making the definitions.

Here’s an excerpt from a 6th Circuit en banc ruling on a free speech/free exercise case from Dearborn, MI [cites omitted]:

Diversity, in viewpoints and among cultures, is not always easy. An inability or a general unwillingness to understand new or differing points of view may breed fear, distrust, and even loathing. But it “is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.” Robust discourse, including the exchanging of ideas, may lead to a better understanding (or even an appreciation) of the people whose views we once feared simply because they appeared foreign to our own exposure. But even when communication fails to bridge the gap in understanding, or when understanding fails to heal the divide between us, the First Amendment demands that we tolerate the viewpoints of others with whom we may disagree. If the Constitution were to allow for the suppression of minority or disfavored views, the democratic process would become imperiled through the corrosion of our individual freedom. Because “[t]he right to speak freely and to promote diversity of ideas…is…one of the chief distinctions that sets us apart from totalitarian regimes,” dissent is an essential ingredient of our political process.

The civil-rights era cases tell us that police cannot punish a peaceful speaker as an easy alternative to dealing with a lawless crowd that is offended by what the speaker has to say … The Supreme Court … has repeatedly affirmed the principle that “constitutional rights may not be denied simply because of hostility to their assertion or exercise.

It would do these children a great service to learn to read (a form of free speech…), and then to add this sort of thing to their literature lists. It would do the administrators and professors a great service to steel themselves to reading and understanding our Constitution. Their disdain for such responsibility is microaggression of monstrous proportion against these children.

To quote, sort of, another man, life is hard. It’s harder if you’re precious and fragile. Or if you’re in a position of responsibility that exceeds your courage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *