Free Speech

free speech

As a writer, I’m a card-carrying proponent of free speech. I believe we have the right to say pretty much whatever we want. Sure, there are a few limits. You can’t cry “FIRE!” in a crowded theater. You can’t do it because it will cause a panic that could, in turn, cause injuries. You can slander someone but you must be prepared to pay the price. So why do it? I’ve been an outspoken critic of being offended by anything and everything and using that sense of offense to remove or limit free speech. Because of that, several things this week have left me both shaking my head and nodding at the same time (and trust me, that’s hard to do and I have the neck ache to prove it).

What started me thinking about it came across my newsfeed this morning. It’s a report on how college student view freedom of speech on college campuses. The study, published by the Knight Foundation, came our just a couple of days ago. It’s a lengthy report and I’m still going through it. But the beginning of the report notes some very interesting trends. Here are a few of the key points:

Students view speech rights as important, yet less secure than in years past

Students believe exposure to a wide spectrum of speech at college is important

Students believe exposure to a wide spectrum of speech at college is important

Students favor college policies that limit racist speech, but support for other speech interventions remains low

Students say the campus climate stifles free expression, yet speech on campus is making nearly 1 in 5 feel unsafe

The first and last finding, especially the first clause of the last finding, are particularly interesting and important. These students recognize the importance of freedom of expression AND they recognize that the campus climate stifles that same free expression. While the brief explanation for the latter focuses on the “climate at school”, it leaves out the actions of school administration. Over the last decade, a number of college administrations have taken steps to not just stifle but completely throttle free speech. Free speech zones were created. On the surface, those looked pretty good. But when you look closer, you realized what a free speech zone did was limit where students and faculty could say what they felt to only those areas. Then those zones were moved from areas in high traffic or central parts of the campus to out-of-the-way areas where the free speech wouldn’t traumatize anyone. Those colleges could say they weren’t silencing anyone. After all, they still had a place to speak their mind.

But they put obstacles up. They moved the locations to places where there would be little to no free exchange of ideas. Some, if I remember correctly, took to monitoring what was being said in case someone said something offensive. Of course, “offensive” is in the mind of the beholder and such a fluid definition that it could change from day to day.

Is it any wonder college students feel freedom of expression is in danger on campus?

And what happens when our institutions of learning no longer allow this free exchange of ideas? They become institutions of indoctrination.

But it isn’t happening only on our college campuses. This week we got to see a showdown between singer Neil Young and the streaming service Spotify. If you’re not familiar with what happened, Spotify not only hosted Young’s catalog for fans to stream but it aired Joe Rogan’s podcast. The two men are examples of polar opposites of the political spectrum. Young, for whatever reason, felt he had enough pull or enough fans or whatever to demand Spotify drop Rogan’s podcast. If they failed to do so, he would no longer let them stream his music.

He stomped his foot. He got righteous. He got shown the door.

He also forgot that he has conservative fans who might also like Joe Rogan. He forgot he could have made his point by issuing a statement that he didn’t agree with Rogan’s stance on X, Y or Z and would not share a platform with him. Therefore, he was pulling his catalog from Spotify. That made it his action, his decision. He would be taking a stand.

Instead, he demanded Spotify take action. He wanted them to purge their offerings of someone he found offensive for whatever reason. He wanted them to silence someone.

Somehow, I don’t think he’d take too kindly if Rogan or anyone else made the same demands against him.

I guess Young isn’t as much of a supporter of free speech and free expression as he’d like us to believe. Not that it surprises me. I see too much of this sort of action–or attempted action–by supposed activists every day. What they don’t realize is if they silence one segment of society, the day will come when they are the ones being silenced. If they studied history, they would find it has happened time and time again.

Here’s the thing. You can say what you want as long as it doesn’t endanger anyone. I’m a big girl. Your words might hurt or I might not like them but I’m not going to go crying to the government to protect me. The world isn’t always a nice place. If we can’t accept there are people with ideas different from our own or beliefs we don’t agree with, then we’re going to have a hard time thriving in the world-at-large. It’s time to remember the foundations upon which our country was built. It is time to pull up our big boy and big girl pants and act like adults. It’s time to ask ourselves why our institutions of higher education are trying to silence free expression to the point even the students recognize it. Most of all, it is time to demand our rights under the Constitution.

end rant

Featured image: Censorship or Freedom of Speech – Traffic sign with two options – appeal to fight for possibility to express opinion and truth. Fight against lies and falsity by M-SUR. Licensed via Adobe Stock.

7 Comments

  1. I wnoder how long it will take for somebody to be ‘offended’ by my own pet curse: ‘Ach, fahrersitz und funkerplatz!’

  2. Being at a large university in Texas (a red and black one that in recent years has provided the NFL with a coach and one of its best quarterbacks – so you can figure out which one without my naming it), I see this all the time. And have experienced it myself. That’s why I have a picture in my office of a viking that says, “I offended you? Tell me how it feels to be so weak mere words hurt you.

    1. Go Red Raiders! Although I don’t miss Lubbock winters. I have no doubt you’ve experienced it. Years ago, when I was doing some post-grad work at UTA, I saw it up close and personal. . . and it’s only gotten worse over the years.

      BTW, I may have to find a Viking and add the caption. I love it.

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