Organization advocates for balance at Chautauqua

CHAUTAUQUA — Sometimes renewal movements start with what could seem like small gestures.

Such as a longtime Chautauqua Institution visitor’s 2018 newspaper ad.

Was it a lost-and-found ad? Sort of.

Chautauqua Institution, a national treasure, can’t achieve its potential without balance — meaning diversity of thought, the diversity that should most matter in such a place.

The ad’s premise was that Chautauqua’s programming had lost balance. Most Chautauqua speakers come from one side of the philosophical spectrum.

Even programming’s conception can be one-sided. Consider this: Chautauqua called its 2020 week on the Constitution “Reframing the Constitution.”

To many organizations, “diversity” often means not different kinds of thought but different kinds of liberals.

It’s not far from there to believing, as Dr. Russell Kirk wrote in “The Intemperate Professor” in 1965, that “‘academic freedom’ means perfect liberty to agree with their opinions.”

The ad encouraged those seeking balance at Chautauqua to attend a chat group.

From the tremendous response, Advocates for Balance at Chautauqua, or ABC, was born.

Political-intolerance — commonly called “political-correctness” — forces can be brutal. An ABC member says the intolerant even include Chautauqua audience members interrupting diverse speakers with catcalls and taunts.

Standing up to such forces takes guts. ABC has solid, gutsy leadership, and ABC’s membership numbers in the hundreds.

This not-for-profit, Section 501(c)(3) organization seeks balanced programming at Chautauqua, not just non-liberal programming.

Meanwhile, ABC in 2020 began providing some balance by sponsoring its own free, open-to-the-public programs throughout the nine-week Chautauqua season.

Intolerance at Chautauqua isn’t limited to institution-sponsored programming. Sometimes intolerance isn’t subtle. A Chautauqua Women’s Club president, an active Democrat, told an ABC member the club would invite no Republican to address it during her presidency.

Others’ experience parallels ABC’s.

For example, having written more briefs for, and conducted more oral arguments in, courts than anyone else in the country since 2010 on the constitutionality of law regulating political speech, this columnist has noticed Chautauqua’s lack of balance on this topic and intermittently offered to provide balance.

A Chautauqua official suggested first proposing to teach, and then teaching, a summer course at the institution. But Chautauqua has continually rejected proposals it solicited. Besides, one wonders how many others have such summer-course prerequisites.

Simultaneously, a Chautauquan suggested contacting the women’s club. However, a former club president wrote to club members to object, because “this man” had represented an organization advocating policy she opposes. So diversity of thought wasn’t welcome.

Besides, the proposed presentation and the long-since-concluded representation went not to any policy but to the First Amendment right to speak without government’s unconstitutionally imposing burdens. This principle applies to all organizations on all sides of all issues, including the club.

The former president, writing from her post-Chautauqua-season abode, then commented on the “fall colors in central France.”

Ah, the great limousine-liberal defenders of the proletariat, splurging autumn away overseas.

In a sense, these acts of intolerance, taken together, are so absurd that they approach being hilarious.

No one should dare make these up, because without evidence, who would believe the pervasiveness of such intolerance?

Yet many have been on the pointed end of this sword at Chautauqua.

Fear not, though. The ABC cavalry has arrived. Its swords include speakers bringing diversity of thought.

ABC says that in 2018, Chautauqua said it had invited 150 diverse speakers, but only one had answered.

To help solve any such problem, ABC says it suggested 12 such speakers for 2019 and 30 for 2020 who had affirmed they’d come, and Chautauqua invited one for 2019 and none for 2020.

ABC deserves support from Chautauquans and those from beyond the institution’s gates.

“How political speech law benefits politicians and the rich” is Dr. Randy Elf’s topic at an abc event at 4 p.m. Aug. 20. for program information, including on attending via internet, see https://www.abcatchq.com and https://www.facebook.com/events/835631386966063.



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