F ree speech is the soul of our nation and foundation of all our freedoms. Without speaking against injustice and evil, those forces will prevail by wreaking havoc and silencing opposition. Our founders recognized this timeless symptom of human nature and established freedom of speech as our first right followed by the right to bear arms to protect our rights. All of our founding documents establish that inalienable rights are endowed by our creator and the role of government is to protect these rights.
This view of free speech has been widely accepted since our beginning, but this right is always challenged. Campaign finance laws were used by the right to push unions out of elections, and by the left to push out corporations. After McCain-Feingold, the Supreme Court halted this violation of free speech protections in the Citizens United ruling.
Kimberley Strassel, in Imprimis, describes the response to this ruling. The left, who had relied on these laws to muzzle free speech, were devastated. But rather than trying to win policy debates in the marketplace of ideas, they started threatening and harassing the opposition to intimidate them out of participation.
The IRS targeting of conservative nonprofits was an example of how a federal bureaucracy was used against opposing views. Another tactic was for prosecutors to abuse their power to hound and frighten political opponents with bogus criminal campaign investigations. A third form of intimidation has been blackmail against corporations and nonprofits to silence them.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking example of repression of free speech is coming from the former paragon of free speech, American universities. Commentary magazine recently published 27 commentaries from liberal and conservative writers on threats to free expression.
One commentator, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, noted that while “legally” free expression in the U.S. is protected, “culturally” the left is threatening free speech on issues important to progressives. Self-proclaimed “social-justice warriors” are spreading censorship at universities by creating taboos such as “Islamophobia.” She suggests no ideas should be beyond critical scrutiny and encourages more exposure and speech.
Lee C. Bollinger said, that “universities must be at the forefront of defending the rights of all students and faculty to listen to controversial voices, to engage disagreeable viewpoints, and to make every effort to demonstrate our commitment to spirited and fearless debate.”
Richard A. Epstein reveals the tortured logic of these protestors. “These ‘enlightened’ protestors are both bound and entitled to shout (any alternative viewpoints) down, by force or other disruptive actions.” For them, First Amendment speech becomes violence, and violence becomes a heroic act of self-defense.
The root cause of this can be attributed to the prevalence of postmodern philosophy in universities. This philosophy rejects the meta-narrative of one truth (our creator in our constitution) and says truth arises from community. Community is defined as race, ethnicity, sex, age, socio-economic status, etc.
The concept of the individual is nonexistent. People think the way they do because of their community or tribe. The most radical of this philosophy are the deconstructionists that run degree programs based on these community divisions. “Identity politics” also arises from this thought. Power and control battles are the result, and respectful debate is impossible without agreed standards of truth.
David French found that some Americans experience a palpable sense of fear of expressing their views: “Free speech is distorted to destroy free speech.”
The goal isn’t to persuade; it’s to intimidate. Not to foster dialog but coerce conformity. As he said” “The marketplace of ideas has been emptied of all but the ‘approved’ ideological vendors.
This mindset is so prevalent that, in some places, such as Portland, Berkeley, and Middlebury, the bullies and thugs have crossed the line from protected — albeit abusive — speech into outright shout-downs and mob violence. But free speech thrives when all sides remember their moral responsibilities — to both protect the right to dissent and engage in ideological combat with a measure of grace and humility.”