Free Speech

When did it become acceptable to shout down “disruptive” speakers and ban books that discuss racism and other ‘controversial’ subjects?” – The Lonely Realist

TLR grew up in an era when free speech was the American Way. Saying what you believed wasn’t muzzled because it might give offense, or because others might disagree, or because what was being said might be viewed as somehow wrong. It was a time when Americans understood the importance of the First Amendment in welcoming controversial ideas, when the American public thrived on hearing diverse viewpoints and used those viewpoints to sharpen its thinking (readers may be reminded of the 60 Minutes TV series Point-Counterpoint). It was an era when Americans actively listened to outrageous and sometimes obnoxious viewpoints, when Americans aired their disagreements and found common ground. They didn’t rely on information spoon-fed by social media entertainers or dictated by government officials who purported to “know better.” They wanted to know for themselves. That thirst for knowledge, discussion and diversity is anchored in America’s Constitution and reflected in Supreme Court decisions like Village of Skokie v. National Socialist Party of America which confirmed that swastika arm-banded members of the American Nazi Party have the right to be heard. Even their anti-Semitic expletives are protected by the First Amendment. America’s Constitution provides exceptions only for speech that threatens imminent physical harm (like shouting “fire” in a crowded theater). It protects every individual’s right to say whatever he or she pleases no matter how extreme or repugnant those views might be. This is the American Way: “Although I may wholly disapprove of what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

The fact that the courts protect free speech hasn’t prevented “correct-thinkers” of all political and social stripes from employing media, legal challenges, violence, and levers of government to suppress speech they dislike or feel threatened by – they have rejected the benefits of free speech and see divergent ideas as threats. From the Wokism and cancelations of the left to book banning and suppressive government action of the right, extremists are trying to ensure that teachers, professors and public figures are banned from airing controversial subjects so that the American people aren’t exposed to “wrong thinking.” Censorship today has many forms.

Among the deniers of free speech rights are college students who are struggling to rationalize 21st Century Woke conformity. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a not-for-profit, reports that more than 80% of America’s college students self-censor their viewpoints; only 40% say they are comfortable publicly disagreeing with a professor; 66% say it is acceptable to shout down a campus speaker they disagree with; and 23% find it acceptable to use violence to stop what they view as unacceptable campus speech. This brand of Wokeness preaches moral superiority. It treats universities as platforms for orthodoxy, where Woke extremism is an acceptable norm and where only narrow versions of history and knowledge are accepted. The very definition of “university,” however, is as a center of universality – the coming together of diverse viewpoints, backgrounds and beliefs. Not today.

Wokism is not limited to universities or to the left. It also is practiced on the extreme right through book bannings, restrictive government law-making, programs that seek to homogenize education, and Federal legislation designed to garner votes from polarized pluralities (an example being the recent passage of the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act” by the House of Representatives)

The result is that purity of thought and action is being exalted over inherently American diversity and the right to freedom of speech. In this new culture of conformity, comedians whose historical repertoire included homophobic, racist, sexist, or politically incorrect jokes have had their careers threatened and, at times, canceled. Words and actions that in prior periods were viewed as off-color, in bad taste, or uncomfortable today are the subject of sharply-worded and philosophically-motivated targeted exposés. Opinions are based on tribal identity rather than on informational discourse.

And what of social media expressions of “hate speech”? Hate speech is, of course, protected by the Constitution, though only from government suppression. Nothing prevents a media company, university or private individual from suppressing speech or speakers for any reason whatsoever or, on the other hand, from promoting homophobic, racist, anti-Semitic, or sexist invective. No law penalizes those who speak, sponsor or promote hate speech (as previously discussed here). However, the obverse also is true: No law protects speakers from being sued for injuries (real or imagined) caused by their hate speech …, although the Federal government (in the Communications Decency Act) has exempted media companies from liability for content posted by users. The Act raises the question of where permissible hate speech ends and speech that threatens imminent physical harm begins, a question soon to be addressed by the Supreme Court (in Twitter v. Taamneh and Gonzalez v. Google) in deciding whether the Act provides internet companies with immunity from users who allegedly aid and abet terrorism.

Free speech is integral to the American Way. That means that hate speech also is integral to the American Way. The problem, however, isn’t the hate speech. It’s that Americans have closed their minds and covered their ears. Until that changes, Wokism won’t go away. Neither will book banning or government intervention in the classroom and the media. We all need to grow thicker skins! And bigger ears!

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Finally (from a good friend)

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