Is the Left Aiming to End Freedom of Speech?
“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” George Washington
“If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re in favor of freedom of speech, that means you are in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.” Noam Chomsky
I was recently in a conversation with an educator from Europe. He said that “America has a lot of problems” and he went on to elaborate, “You depend too much on that constitution of yours. It was written over two hundred years ago; times have changed. It is time your people realize that and put history aside.” Of course most Americans would respond that it was none of Europe’s business what America does, and besides, the whole point of the US Constitution was to insure that after Americans fought to kick Britain out they wanted to make sure that people’s rights were safeguarded so it this country would not evolve into something akin to Europe. However, I would suggest that there are elements in America today that would be more than happy to go the route of eliminating our constitutional protections…especially in regards to freedom of speech.
Americans generally take the ability to express their views for granted…after all, we are taught in grade school that the U.S. Constitution, specifically the 1st Amendment, guarantees that even if you have a very unpopular opinion you have the right to express it. This is a right that we are born with, not one granted by some king or head-of-state. As someone who likes to express views on everything from psychology to public policy I appreciate not having to worry about someone knocking at the door at 2am and hauling me off to a detention center for expressing an opinion contrary to what the government believes in.
I appreciate, as a writer of fiction that touches on controversial matters (example, "The Destiny of Our Past" Amazon: http://amzn.to/2nrU3Ng ) that I can be both creative and explore issues that may not be what would be considered proper topics during a dinner-function at your grandmother’s house, or someone who gets their worldview from mainstream media. Lately, however, there are some dark clouds on the horizon in regards to this fundamental feature of American law and culture and people need to be very concerned.
There has always been a balance sought after in regards to speech and such issues as public safety. Traditionally the courts, bound by the spirit of the First Amendment, have sided with allowing discourse unless doing so might cause a “clear and present danger” to the public (i.e. screaming “Fire!” in a crowded theater, when there is no fire, has generally been given as an example of when the balance tips towards protecting people over expression). However, in recent years we have seen a push for integrating the idea into our public policy of restricting speech when it might infringe on someone’s feelings. And while the intentions might be good, even honorable, this could lead to extreme curtailment of people’s ability to express their selves without fear.
All across America we see college campuses placing restrictions on what students and professors are allowed to say or do. Everything from banning the wearing of Halloween costumes that depict ethnic groups to discussing theories that there are neurological differences between men and women that affect specific behavior, have grabbed headlines in recent years. Schools have banned comedians who might be politically incorrect from performing and even Obama criticized the trend of campuses to curtail more conservative speakers from being able to share their views with students.
Of course college and university campuses are like miniature feudal estates with their own artificial power structures. It would be easy to dismiss what is going on the same way we don’t generally care who is elected the president of the most popular sorority. However, that is a mistake. These young people will graduate and take the norms of speech-restriction into your children’s classrooms or even the courtrooms of your local community. And opinion polls have shown that a large percentage of Millennials, while supporting freedom of speech in theory, are willing to make exceptions when speech might offend someone. Remember, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
You see, what is offensive to one person may not be to another. And what one defines as an extremist depends on an individual’s perspective. For instance, I know someone who recently helped organize a performance art project that involved nudity on stage. Some would call it art, some pornography – depends on the person asked. In the same way many on the left really do believe that any and all Trump supporters are racists; that there is no difference between voting for Trump and being a Nazi. Of course this is a completely absurd view but it can lead to dangerous consequences. It means there are people willing to go out and do really nasty things to men, women and even children who express support for Trump, and they feel totally justified in doing so. This is dangerous on so many levels…especially in regards to speech freedoms. Let’s say someone holds a pro-Trump rally, or just a pro-conservative gathering, and then the organized left meets it with either threats of violence or real violence. Local politicians, be they merely liberal or just wanting to avoid clashes that could embarrass their city image, will be tempted to curtail or ban local gatherings. At present most people (be they Democrat or Republican) would oppose this, but what if things escalate? Soon the far left, who claims to be anti-fascist but supports curtailing speech, it appears, to those they disagree with, may win their objective by bullying tactics.
And now the war on speech is entering the internet arena. Been keeping up on trends lately? It is always the one who fears weakness in their argument that seeks to silence who they at least sub-consciously recognize as having superior reasoning.
Freedom of religion, speech and assembly exist in the United States because most Americans realize that laws that restrict people’s expression would be a double-edge sword. Today you are the majority, or the ones in government, or the popular ones but tomorrow you are the minority, no longer in government or unpopular and you do not want the laws imposed on others turned on you. These are ideas we need to preserve in our culture because if these erode so too will the very foundations of all our freedoms. No, the answer is not to push the US Constitution aside, its time is not long-since past; in reality it has never been so vital as it is today to preserve.
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