Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Gordon Forgey

Free speech?


March 7, 2019

President Donald Trump has vowed he will soon release an executive order on free speech.

Ostensively, the mandate would, among other things, deny federal funding to institutions deemed in violation of it.

It has not yet been released, but reportedly the administration has been working on it for months.

Free speech is the bulwark of American democracy. There are limitations. The classic and simplest is not to yell “fire” in a crowded theater. They go on from there.

It is said that the reason for the order is to stop harassment of conservatives on college campuses. Apparently, they are treated badly by liberals. Surveys, in fact, have shown that liberals actually tend to be less tolerant of divergent views than conservatives.

Yet, the fact remains that conservatives do not need more protection than liberals. Both need equal protection under the law. Both need equal respect from the other.

Political opinions cannot be legislated and federalized. The problem is seen everywhere, most visibly on college campuses when speakers are protested or disinvited from speaking because of student outrage.

College campuses should be open to ideas and freedom of expression. This is where young adults should be exposed to differing views and different outlooks. Instead, they are becoming bastions of rigid thinking. The problem goes beyond the obvious. On one campus, some students objected to the American flag, saying the flag and the country’s history disturbed them.

People now, more than ever, choose friends, professional services and affiliations based on political preferences and commonality. Those who were simply Americans, neighbors and associates are now being branded (and avoided) because of their politics.

The news media are also branded. People tend to read or watch only those with which they agree.

This schism is growing into all aspects of life. It has become a hallmark of some institutions of higher learning.

Examples are many, but this does not call for a presidential proclamation, regardless of who is president.

It is better for the courts to decide as they have in the past. It would be best for Americans to see beyond politics.

Such a mandate might determine whose free speech deserves the most protection. Could this morph into controls on media or evolve into punishing those voicing dissent? History abounds with comments of dissent leading to imprisonment or death.

No matter who endorses the idea, the idea is bad, and it sets a frightening precedence. Will it really lead to free speech?


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