Saturday, March 04, 2017

The decline of free speech (and freedom) in America

Here is a column by Jonathan Turley.  He is on target.

As Turley says: "we are raising a generation of intolerant (and at times violent) censors".

Here is JT's column.


We have been discussing the rising intolerance and violence on college campuses, particularly against conservative speakers.  The latest such example can be found at Middlebury College where Professor Allison Stanger was assaulted by protesters and injured after she merely accompanied a controversial speaker to campus. It was a disgraceful but increasingly common scene on our campuses as students fought to prevent others from hearing opposing views or speakers.

Stanger was accompanying Charles Murray, a political scientist and author of the controversial “The Bell Curve” ( asserted that different races has different intelligence levels).  Protesters succeeded in preventing his speaking at the original location on campus and he was moved to another location for a closed circuit broadcast.  However, when Stanger, Murray and a college administrator left McCullough Student Center after the event, they were “physically and violently confronted by a group of protestors,” according to Bill Burger, the college’s vice president for communications and marketing.

The three retreated to an administrator’s car but Burger said “The protestors then violently set upon the car, rocking it, pounding on it, jumping on and try to prevent it from leaving campus. At one point a large traffic sign was thrown in front of the car. . . . During this confrontation outside McCullough, one of the demonstrators pulled Prof. Stanger’s hair and twisted her neck . . . She was attended to at Porter Hospital later and (on Friday) is wearing a neck brace.”

There is no indication however of a single arrest or a single disciplinary action against the protesters.  The College president admitted that some of those responsible were students and yet there was no effort to punish those responsible for silencing free speech or violently attacking the speaker and faculty member.

The chilling scene at Middlebury is the result of years of erosion of free speech principles and protections at academic institutions.  Faculty have led the effort to declare certain speech to be hostile or intolerant (and thus not protected).  They have taken campuses that were once bastions of free speech and turned them into towers of intolerance.  That ignoble legacy was more than evidence in the letter from 450 alumni who denounced the visit of Murray and rejected basic notions of free speech.  The letter shows the utter ease and comfort that students and alumni now display in simply declaring certain views as unworthy of protection. There was even a subtle dig at Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway:
However, in this case we find the principle does not apply, due to not only the nature, but also the quality, of Dr. Murray’s scholarship. . . .  If Dr. Murray’s scholarship is of blatantly dreadful quality — and we hold, along with so many of his colleagues, that it is — then what is the point of “debating” his views? How, and why, does one go about arguing in good faith with a scholar whose entire intellectual premise consists of what are now being called, incredibly, “alternative facts”?
Since Dr. Murray’s views are not worth engaging on these grounds, this can hardly be called an occasion for open, rigorous academic debate. His invitation to campus, then, is not an educational opportunity, but a threat. It is a message to every woman, every person of color, every first-generation student, every poor and working-class person, every disabled person and every queer person that not only their acceptance to and presence at Middlebury, but also their safety, their agency, their humanity and even their very right to exist are all up for “debate.”
So just hearing an opposing viewpoint is now a “threat” and categorically unworthy of debate or protection.  Of course, the threat that injured Professor Stanger was quite real and came from the very individuals claiming to be victimized by his exercise of free speech.  What is interesting is the tone of the coverage of the latest violence by protesters against conservatives or libertarians on campus.  The Boston Globe had a story of liberal protesters assaulting and injuring a professor in their effort to prevent the exercise of free speech.  The newspaper entitled its article “Protesters Aggressively Confront Controversial Speaker at Middlebury College.”   “Aggressively confront”?  They first moved to block anyone hearing his views and then assaulted the author and a faculty member.

Incidents like the one at Middlebury are shocking reminders that we are raising a generation of intolerant (and at times violent) censors.  We have taught students that free speech is no longer the value that we strive to preserve but the threat to their very existence.  As a result, they have developed a sense of entitlement in the silencing of opposing voices. Indeed, they now view the fight against free speech as a noble cause. They do that by simply claiming (as they do in this letter) that opposing speakers are not really engaging in free speech at all but rather incitement or hatred or the ill-defined “microaggressions.”  It is a license to silence others and to select what speech is worthy to be heard on campus.

Middlebury insists that it was shocked by the violence on campus.  If so, it should start by expelling students who refuse to allow opposing voices to be heard and take violent action when others do not yield to their demands.  As I discussed in an earlier column, a few schools (led by the University of Chicago) have stood firm in support of free speech and against the slippery slope of censorship advocated by many academics.  It may be the single greatest and defining moment of the American academy.

It will not be easy to regain the ground lost.  University administrators are not known for their steadfast fealty to principle when facing threats of protests or condemnations as microaggressors or advocates of white privilege.  There are also academics who actively teach how speech is a threat to equality and a tool for privilege.  Few academics want to be labeled as racially insensitive or reactionary.  However, it has been the silence of most academics that has allowed this trend to grow and mutate across our campuses.

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