Freedom of Speech?

Josh Blackman, a law professor at South Texas College of Law and frequent guest lecturer on college campuses, found himself the object of protest at City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law earlier this year. Professor Blackman was invited by the Federalist Society, CUNY’s conservative legal group, to discuss the legal and philosophical reasons to promote and protect free speech on campus.

CUNY protesters stonewalled his introduction by shouting over him, “He’s a white supremacist” and screaming “CUNY is not having you. You are not welcome.” The irony of the situation is that Blackman, who is far from being a provocateur, was silenced by law-school students for lecturing on the value of free speech.

The Federalist Society responded by saying students heckled Blackman because the conservative group invited him. Blackman eventually continued his lecture after protesters moved to the dean’s office to complain. CUNY students who attended Blackman’s lecture later admitted to him that conservative voices are often suppressed by students who hold different views.

When the Founding Fathers crafted the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States—providing freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition—they intended it to be a tool to create and sustain a free government. Founder Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government: When this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved.” The founders saw the First Amendment as the bedrock of any free society.

But what happens when the First Amendment is no longer seen as a tool for governing the free but as a potential weapon for protecting “hate speech”? Today, 40 percent of people under 35 consider the First Amendment ammunition to hurt someone’s feelings. This is why certain college students feel justified silencing opinions that don’t meet their standards. One fifth of college students argue that, if they disapprove of what you say, they have the right to inflict physical harm on you because your words are harmful to them.

Over the past few years, student protesters have successfully interrupted or silenced speakers because they believed the speakers’ conservative opinions were equal to hate. At Professor Blackman’s lecture, one protester’s sign read, “Conservative hate does not equal intellectual debate.”

That’s why speakers like Ben Shapiro and Dennis Prager have been harassed for their views on traditional marriage, abortion, microaggression, and the political left. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was canceled from speaking at Brandeis University for criticizing Islam. Bassem Eid’s lecture on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was shut down at the University of Chicago because he is a Palestinian who supports Israel. Mayor Nir Barkat’s event at San Francisco State University was scrapped because he is the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem. Even Princeton Seminary President M. Craig Barnes was pressured by students to retract the Kuyper Award from conservative pastor Timothy Keller because he opposes women and gays being ordained into the ministry.

“Progressive” students feel the need to silence these speakers, claiming their opinions are hate speech. Universities and colleges pay lip service to promoting free speech on campuses but do little to protect it.  

While 73 percent of Americans believe in 18th-century French author Voltaire’s statement “I disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it,” a generation is rising in this country that would say, “I disapprove of what you say and will amend the law to prohibit you from saying it.”

That is not freedom. That is the doorway to totalitarianism. Freedom of speech never promised to protect people from getting their feelings hurt. It was designed to challenge the government and promote the exchange of ideas, which has proven to contribute to peaceful political exchange, economic growth, entrepreneurialism, education, and cultural development.

If we aren’t careful to educate our children in basic American civics, the freedoms we enjoy today will disappear in the interest of making sure nobody’s feelings are hurt. On July 4, as we celebrate 242 years of independence, let’s come together as a nation to remember the freedoms we have and to promote them as a tool for the good of all, not for the benefit of the few.

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