Free speech reduced to selective

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter was recently blocked from speaking at UC Berkley by the university administration. At institutions of higher learning across this nation, Conservative and Republican speakers are being disinvited, harassed and shouted down. These occurrences are a sign that troubling changes are taking place in our nation

Free speech is under attack in the United States. The framers of the Constitution in addressing a lack of protection for individual rights in the Constitution added the first 10 Amendments now known as the Bill of Rights. The framers, remembering the abuse of individual rights under British rule, realized that protection of freedom of speech along with freedom of assembly, the free practice of religion, a free press and other God given rights were essential for a truly free people and must be protected.

In the First Amendment, Congress was enjoined from making laws “abridging the freedom of speech …” In other words, short of yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, when there is no fire, all speech no matter how hurtful, distasteful or vulgar was meant to be allowed. Madison and others saw that placing restrictions on some speech could lead to restrictions on all forms of speech.

During much of our history, Americans of all parties and political persuasions were proud to say that while they might not agree with everything opponents said, they would defend their right to say it. Now those on the left no longer say that.

They seem prepared to obstruct, limit and block speech they disagree with. This fact was illustrated by the actions of some in the previous administration who seriously suggested using the Federal RICO or the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act against Climate Change Deniers, the pejorative leftist term for those who question any aspect of their deeply held belief in totally human caused climate change.

Today free speech is defined by many as what is considered politically correct, upsets the fewest people, and most importantly, speech that you agree with. I think the founders of this nation and the teachers who long ago taught me social studies and civics would be appalled if they saw what free speech is defined as today.

College and university campuses are major battlegrounds in the war over free speech. Members of the millennial generation who constitute the majority of students seem to adhere to the modern definition of free speech. Now when confronted by unacceptable or unsettling speech they demand safe spaces where as the song says, “Never is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day…”

In addition to safe spaces students and faculty speak a new language that includes phrases like “micro aggressions” and “trigger warnings.”

College faculty members, who you think would know better, have as narrow a view of what constitutes acceptable speech as do young students. Arron R. Hanlon, an assistant professor of English at Maine’s Coe College, writing in the New Republic, called for the suppression of “hateful” speech writing that “Rejecting campus speakers is not an assault on free speech, rather like so many other decisions made every day by college students, teachers, and administrators it’s a value judgement.” In other words, for Hanlon, speech that is more valuable, in the eyes of elites should have pride of place over less valuable speech.

After making that argument, which lacks in logic, he goes on to say that both left and right oppose dissenting opinions. That of course begs the question of why at least 99 percent of speakers disinvited from campuses are Republicans or Conservatives.

What has happened to what was formally a governing principles of higher education, that the interplay of ideas is to be encouraged? Students were once encouraged to develop as critical thinkers and to get to the core of ideas. In addition, an aim of higher education was for students to develop their own positions on issues and then be prepared to defend those positions. Now it appears that not thinking creatively or outside the box is the real objective and regurgitating what the teacher says is more important.

I think the real reason for the attacks on free speech lies with the fact that in the last 20 or so years several generations have passed through the public school system without a thorough instruction in our national history or the development of political thought that gave rise to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They have become adults with no real understanding that individual God given rights, like freedom of speech are essential to whom we are as a people and must be protected from abuse and limitation.

Therein lies the crux of our current problem.

Thomas Kirkpatrick Sr. is a Silver Creek resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com

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