Do you remember the good old days, when liberals believed in the freedom of speech? The University of California Berkeley is arguably the birthplace of the free speech movement. Indeed, beginning in 1960’s UC Berkeley was one of the epicenters of powerful counter cultural movements that spawned the hippies and a radical commitment to question, protest and overthrow existing authority structures with a robust commitment to the freedom of speech. The ACLU and other free speech advocates often took to quoting Voltaire: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Now, Berkeley has ironically become one of the centers of free speech suppression.
What a difference a few decades make! Now that some of the very same individuals who were leading protests in the 60’s and 70’s have matriculated, and have grown up to teach and lead institutions of higher education, many have decidedly turned against the First Amendment’s promise of the freedom of expression. Now that the liberal elites control these institutions, they seek to abuse their power by aggressively turning against all free thought and speech that would dare question now-entrenched leftist orthodoxies or undermine their ability to seamlessly indoctrinate the next generation with collectivist leftist group-think. There are now two classes of speech on most American college campuses: politically correct liberal speech, which is allowed, and politically incorrect conservative speech, which is not.
The clear message to everyone paying attention is that academic elites will only permit ideas and speech with which they agree, but will target for eradication ideas and speech with which they personally disagree. The dominant target for thought and speech suppression on college campuses today is all things conservative, especially ideas informed by the Judeo-Christian worldview. Completion of their radical decades-long revolution apparently means they now must actively suppress, punish, and silence thoughts and words that do not perfectly align with the now institutionally entrenched leftist worldview. But if the freedom of speech means anything, it certainly does not mean that some speech is more “free” than others or that the state can support speech it likes and obliterate speech it doesn’t.
This decidedly dark Orwellian trend was highlighted recently when Milo Yiannopoulos, a very controversial Trump supporter and an openly gay member of the right, was invited by the campus Republican Club to speak and UC Berkeley. More than 100 “tolerant” faculty members referring to Milo’s presentations as “harassment, slander, defamation, and hate speech” signed a letter demanding that the University cancel the event. Protestors clad in black clothing and masks smashed windows, set fires, and pepper-sprayed a young female Trump supporter in the face, while carrying posters and signs claiming, quite ironically, that Milo is a “fascist.” Rather than protecting Milo and his speech, UC Berkeley officials and police folded like a cheap suit, allowing the protesters to prevail in their “heckler’s veto” by canceling Milo’s talk. Unfortunately, Berkeley is not alone. Ben Shapiro’s event at UCLA faced similar opposition recently. But, as Yale Law Professor Jose Cabranas pointed out in the Washington Post, “No one can doubt that we should strive for civility. But problems arise when we are told that “uncivil” speech has made a campus “unsafe” — and that university officials should make a campus safe again by punishing uncivil speakers.”
As George Orwell wrote, “If freedom means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Yet, today in our universities, once the bastions of the freedom of thought and expression, the Freedom of Speech is being destroyed, sacrificed on the false altars of “trigger warnings,” “safe spaces,” “hate speech” and all other forms of mind-numbing snow-flakery. Academic freedom increasingly means liberty only for liberals. Conservatives need not apply or should at least remain silent.
This is no small matter. Our very freedom and the continuation of our republic are at stake. As a conservative constitutional attorney, I do not always agree with former Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren. However, I must wholeheartedly agree with Warren’s prediction about the republic-ending threat of political correctness when he wrote that either “teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and evaluate,” or “our civilization will stagnate and die.” (Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234 (1957”)). Benjamin Franklin agreed that the “freedom of speech is a principal pillar of government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected in its ruins.”
Yes, the freedom of speech includes religious speech. But in this hostile environment, many believers have stopped talking about God and sharing the gospel. Why? Fear of man—fear of retribution. Yet, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so elegantly wrote, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” George Washington warned, “If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
Although liberals have lost their love of free speech, we must be different – if not for ourselves, for the sake of our children and grandchildren. Let us this day, as free Americans, commit to steadfastly oppose every authority, government, or other influence, that seeks to suppress, destroy, or silence the freedom of speech. Long live the freedom of speech!