Opinion: Free Speech Falls Again
Opinion: Free Speech Falls Again
Let’s get this straight. Nowhere in the founding documents of this country is there a right not to be offended. In fact, one of the rights we have historically enjoyed is free speech. We canpretty much say whatever we want. There are limits, of course. You can’t stand up in a crowded theater and yell “Fire!”. You can lie about someone but you face the potential of that person filing a civil suit against you. However, this country once stood for the free discourse of ideas. Unfortunately, that seems to be a fading belief — at least as far as certain perpetually offended are concerned.
We have college campuses doing their best to limit free speech by setting up “Free Speech Zones”, often well away from the parts of campus where students and faculty might hear the offending ideas. They pass vague guidelines and create an atmosphere reminiscent of Nazi Germany or the USSR. It’s not even a new trend. In 2015, students at Yale demanded they not be offended. Over the last year or so, the news has been filled with stories where so-called students protested the free exchange of ideas by Conservatives like Milo and Anne Coulter. Now they are attacking Jordan Peterson. And all because they don’t want to have their tender sensibilities offended.
But it doesn’t start or stop with our universities. In Oregon, that bastion of liberal ideas, an 18-year-old high school student was suspended over wearing a “Donald J. Trump Border Wall Construction Co” t-shirt. He wore it on a day when his “People and Politics” class was scheduled to discuss immigration. After being told the shirt “offended” at least one teacher and one student, the young man initially covered up the shirt. Then he decided to remove his jacket. After all, why should his right to free speech and the free exchange of ideas be infringed upon when everyone else was getting to say what they thought?
Guess what happened? At a school named Liberty — and talk about irony — the administration didn’t call him in to ask him to cover up. Oh no. They sent a security guard to escort him from class. Wow! Who knew just wearing a Trump-related t-shirt made you so dangerous your school administrators were afraid to treat you with respect or even as a reasonable and rational person. This young man was then told to change his shirt or leave the school. When he chose the latter, the school listed his absence as a “suspension”.
Nothing in Liberty’s handbook addresses political clothing. The school district’s Standards of Student Conduct includes this provision, “Clothing decorated or marked with illustrations, words, or phrases that are disruptive or potentially disruptive, and/or that promote superiority of one group over another is not permitted.”
Now consider what the young man was told. A teacher and a student were “offended” by the t-shirt. Where was the disruption or potential disruption? Maybe, if you try hard enough, you might be able to make a case for the latter part of the provision but that is stretching the point. If you stretch it that far, then you might as well do away with pep rallies where students encourage their football teams to hurt — or worse — the opposing team, where they make fun of the other team, etc.
How far are we going to let the generation of the perpetually butt-hurt continue to bully the rest of the nation simply because they can’t stand getting their delicate little feelings hurt? When are we going to start teaching our kids how to stand up for themselves and, even more importantly, to understand that the world isn’t fair and not everyone has to make you feel good?
You know things have swung too far when the ACLU steps in and agrees that the young man’s free speech was abridged by the school.
“The school clearly crossed the line,” ACLU Oregon Legal Director Mat dos Santos told KGW-TV. “This shirt is mean spirited, but it isn’t a ‘disturbance’ under First Amendment case law. . . It is disappointing that Liberty High School decided to censor the student instead of inviting the student body to discuss immigration, the freedom of speech, and the impacts of xenophobic rhetoric, . . Schools have a responsibility to teach our youth how to engage in thoughtful conversations about difficult and potentially offensive subject matters. Censorship doesn’t work and often just elevates the subject the government is trying to silence.”
Thank about that: “Schools have a responsibility to teach our youth to engage in thoughtful conversations about difficult and potentially offensive subject matters. Censorship doesn’t work and often just elevates the subject the government is trying to silence.” Instead, they are stifling discussion of anything that might — MIGHT — make someone uncomfortable, at least as long as that someone isn’t a conservative. That bias has to stop. The suppression of speech and the exchange of ideas has to stop. It is up to each of us to speak up and to vote, with out pocketbooks when it comes to supporting schools and with out ballots on election day. If we don’t, this country will continue down this very slippery slope and that is one journey we do not want to continue. Not if we value our freedom and the freedom of our children.