By Peter Van Voorhis
If we really value free speech and the free exchange of ideas, we must tolerate diversity of thought above all.
In the 1960s, activists at the University of California, Berkeley started the American free speech movement, where millions of students across the country fought for free speech rights, largely in opposition to American intervention in Vietnam.
In the United States of America, our rights to free speech are protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution, which protects freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, and more. It has been an important part of our political tradition since our founding, and is one of our most important rights as citizens.
While the vast majority of Americans support robust free speech protections, today’s college students have committed themselves to shutting down all speech they disagree with, in the name of ‘tolerance.’
Sound absurd? It’s because it is.
On American college campuses, students genuinely feel they have a right to not be exposed to ‘offensive’ speech. They demand physical ‘safe spaces’ to protect themselves from opposing views on campus, and work tirelessly to silence speakers, professors, and fellow students with whom they disagree. My generation has even been labeled ‘snowflakes’ for our seeming inability to tolerate ideas contrary to our own.
Students at Berkeley and across the country have also allied themselves with an outside group called ‘Antifa,’ which stands for ‘anti-fascist.’ Even Berkeley’s Mayor, Jesse Arreguin, is reportedly a member of the group, which commits physical violence against their political opponents. Conservative groups have argued the group really stands for ‘Anti-First Amendment,’ due to their violent anarcho-communist platform.
Antifa orchestrated the riots that shut down Milo Yiannopoulos’ speech at UC Berkeley, and has threatened to do the same to conservative commentator Ann Coulter, a media personality known for defending Donald Trump. Groups organising the talk have threatened to sue after the school cancelled Coulter’s talk, citing security concerns from student protesters.
This culture of intolerance is not limited to the student body. In fact, school administrations actively encourage this behavior by their support of students’ imaginary right to not be offended. In an era of ‘social justice,’ any idea that diverts from that worldview is immediately labeled ‘racist’ or ‘sexist,’ and therefore must be suppressed and marginalised.
The natural result of this situation is a culture hostile to the very idea of higher education. The university is supposed to be a place where young adults have their ideas challenged, and accept that others may disagree with them, and even hold entirely different outlooks on life. Instead, the university has become a place for so-called ‘social justice warriors’ to promote their narrow worldview to others who already agree with them.
Where is the value in that?
This phenomenon is not limited to America’s college campuses. Outside left-wing groups like Antifa and others also riot and protest to advance their movement, and have been particularly vocal in their opposition to Donald Trump. They argue that any trace of intolerance must be wiped out at all costs, even resorting to violence, looting, and rioting to further their anarcho-communist worldview.
As Noam Chomsky famously said, “Goebbels was in favour of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech.”
Across the United States, left-wing activists are claiming that ‘free speech is hate speech,’ and calling for the outright censoring of any political view that contradicts their own. This is a new low in the American political tradition by any standard.
A campus climate that claims to advocate ‘tolerance’ has everything but that. If we really value free speech and the free exchange of ideas, we must tolerate diversity of thought above all.Peter Van Voorhis is a conservative activist based in California. He Tweets @RepublicanPeter
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