First, here are some interesting statistics from a comprehensive study of 20,000 college students taken by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, College Pulse, and RealClearEducation.
*60% of students said they did not feel free expressing an opinion because of how a professor, other students or the administration would respond. Republican students felt this the most at 73% while Democrats checked in at 52%.
*15% of students felt comfortable publicly disagreeing with their professor about a controversial topic.
*87% of students said Bernie Sanders should be allowed to express his views on campus while only 67% said Donald Trump should be afforded the same measure.
*71% of strong Republicans said Joe Biden should be allowed to speak while 49% of strong Democrats supported that same ideal for Donald Trump
*Students at Ivy League campuses said it was ok to exert some level violence to shut down speech they found unacceptable (21%) while 1% said it was always acceptable.
*More than 60% of extreme liberals said it’s “always” or “sometimes” acceptable to shout down a speaker; compared to 15% for extreme conservatives.
*37% of Ivy League students say that shouting down a speaker is “always” or “sometimes” acceptable, compared to 26% of students not enrolled at Ivy League colleges. When it comes to removing flyers, the figures are 37% to 28%.
*Almost 1 in 5 Ivy League students find it “always” or “sometimes” acceptable to block other students from entering a campus event, compared to roughly 1 in 10 of non-Ivy students.
These are just a few figures, not broken down by race or ethnicity which reveal an even more interesting picture, but the premise is clear…free speech is not prized as much as it should be in a nation such as ours – built upon that very foundation as not only guaranteed by the First Amendment, but by the Supreme Court through a number of decisions.
What’s most troublesome is that these figures are from collegiate students – the very people that are to keep the notion of what this nation is alive and well.
To be precise, we do not enjoy complete and unfettered free speech in this nation; there are limits as determined by the Supreme Court, limits such as seditious speech, defamatory speech and what the court referred to as “fighting words”. As with all things, all of those limits can be and are, parsed out, but the point is unfettered free speech doesn’t exist. However, those items are different than the notion of limiting free speech based on not liking what someone has to say, and that is the primary concern.
Censoring free speech or the exchange of ideas, be that censorship via the heckler’s veto, storming a meeting to disrupt it, or using some form of group violence is not only a violation of the free speech rights of those giving said speech, but the denial by the disrupters of an audience’s freedom to listen. In the end, that is also part and parcel of free speech and should be taken into consideration just as much as the rights of the person delivering the speech.
In recent years, disruption of speech has been directed at conservative speakers on college campuses to a significant degree. People such as Ann Coulter, Ben Shapiro, Yaron Brook, and even Dr. Jordan Peterson, himself a self described liberal, have had their speeches disrupted by violence, threats of violence, or outright storming of the venue by activists who wish to shut down what those people were going to say.
Where once college campuses were the bastion of free and unfettered speech, they are now, in many cases, places of preserved speech, allowed only for those the activists and professors on campus deemed acceptable, with those who are accepted left leaning. Further, professors who have taken positions against what is deemed acceptable have had their classes boycotted, or in some cases, have been fired.
In a society that purports to value free speech, this is simply not acceptable and points to a dangerous precedent on collage campuses, one in which the only exchange of ideas that are allowed are the ones activists prefer.
At the University of North Caroline – Chapel Hill, Professor Tim Ryan conducted a survey sent out to the entire student body of that institution. In that study, nearly 20% of students who identify as liberals stated it is appropriate to prevent other students from hearing a campus speaker express a disliked view. Conversely, only 3% of students who identified as conservative felt that action appropriate.
These numbers represent a dangerous precedent that is growing ever more on not only our college campuses, but also in high schools as well. Social media is not immune to this either as major outlets censor what their boards decide iss are well known to censor speech that runs contrary to what their “factcheckers” consider acceptable points of view.
While it is true that Facebook is a publicly traded company, as was Twitter, until recently, their stake in the dissemination of information in our nation is much greater, and, as stated earlier, should be subject to a modification of the rules; they are more a public forum than anything else, and the public forum should be protected FOR free speech, not against it.
But what about disinformation? Should that not be counteracted? Here’s the question: Who is the decider of what disinformation is? Who is the arbiter? Does that not give said arbiter too much power? The need for a disinformation arbiter suggests the public is not smart enough to decide what is and is not disinformation, demeaning the public at large. History teaches us over and over again the surest way to preserve power is to silence the masses, keep them in the dark and moderate what they see and hear. Was not Thomas Paine a purveyor of disinformation? John Locke? Voltaire and Montesquieu?
Was not Diderot’s The Philosophical Dictionary considered so much disinformation it was banned?
Free speech is messy and not for the weak of heart. Yes, free speech can incite unwanted feelings for some who are subject to it – a small price to pay for the ability to hear differing points of view or expose idiocy. Just as one has the ability to “turn the channel” one also has the ability not to listen. But to deliberately shut down through threats of violence, actual disruption, or outright violence should never be tolerated on any college or high school campus for that matter. To do so goes against everything we stand for as a nation.