America's Anti-Free Speech Movement

The nation's leftists, whether in academia or the news media tout themselves as advocates of free speech. Back in 1964, it was Mario Savio a campus leftist who led the Free Speech Movement at the Berkeley campus of the University of California, a movement that without question played a vital role in placing American universities center stage in the flow of political ideas no matter how controversial, unpatriotic and vulgar.

From the Nazis to the Stalinists leftists have always supported free speech rights, at least initially. Why? Because speech is important for the realization of leftist goals of command and control. People must be propagandized, proselytized and convinced. However, once the leftists are in power, as they are in most universities, free speech becomes a liability and must be suppressed. This is increasingly the case on college campuses and even finds its way into the work place.

West Virginia University's student handbook reads in part: "Individuals or organizations may utilize designated free speech areas on a first-come, first-served basis without making reservations." Adding, ". . .the two designated areas for free speech and assembly will be the amphitheater area of the Mountainlair plaza and the concrete stage area in front of the Mountainlair and adjacent to the WVU Bookstore." In other words, 99 percent of West Virginia's campus was made into a censorship zone.

This Nazi-Stalinist-like policy did not last long. The Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) began a campaign of public exposure and the Charlottesville, Virginia-based Rutherford Institute brought suit. This persuaded West Virginia University's Board of Governors to promulgate a new policy that abolishes censorship zones saying, "Assemblies of persons may occur on any grounds on the campus outside of buildings." While censorship zones have been eliminated at West Virginia University, they continue to exist at Appalachia State University, Florida State University, Illinois State, the University of Texas, Austin and the University of Houston and about 15 other universities across the country.

According to a Washington Post (11/21/02), Harvard Law School is considering a ban on offensive speech. Members of its Black Law Students Association has called for what they call "a discriminatory harassment policy that would basically punish or at least give the administration some way to review harassing behavior." Harvard's Committee on Healthy Diversity - made up of six faculty, six students and three law school staff members - will make its recommendations in the spring. It might be that Harvard's black law students, like so many other students, have come to believe that they have a constitutional right not to be offended or have their feelings hurt.

Universities that have been trying to quash free speech have encountered some court reversals of their attempts. But campus leftists have not given up. The newest university gambit to limit speech mirrors the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines concerning sexual harassment in the workplace, (creating a hostile environment) or they attempt to base their speech code on the "fighting words" doctrine enunciated by the Court in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942).

In addition to limitations on free speech, some universities have communist style re-education practices. For example at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill incoming freshmen were required to read Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations. According to the school's Chancellor James Moeser, the book was "chosen in the wake of September 11th," which was a "great opportunity to have a conversation on the teachings of one of the world's great religions." Can one imagine the furor if there were mandatory reading of books discussing Christianity?

At Vanderbilt University its Confederate Memorial Hall dormitory was renamed to Memorial Hall because the word "Confederate" makes some people feel uncomfortable. Vanderbilt Professor Jonathan Farley, in an article, said that Confederates were "cowards masquerading as civilized men" and that "every Confederate soldier deserved not a hallowed resting place at the end of his days but a reservation at the end of the gallows." One can imagine the indignation if such a statement were made about other combatants in U.S. history: Indians, Mexicans or Japanese.

Attacks on free speech in order to accommodate multiculturalism and diversity is really an attack on Western values that the university "enlightened" consider morally equivalent at best to other values. But Western values are superior to all others. Why? The indispensable achievement of the West was the concept of individual rights. It is the idea that individuals have certain inalienable rights and individuals do not exist to serve government but government exists to protect inalienable rights. It took until the 17th century for that idea to arrive on the scene and mostly through the works of English philosophers such as John Locke and David Hume.

While western values are superior to all others, one need not be a westerner to hold Western values. A person can be Chinese, Japanese, Jewish, African or Arab and hold Western values. It's no accident that western values of reason and individual rights have produced unprecedented health, life expectancy, wealth and comfort for the ordinary person. There's an indisputable positive relationship between liberty and standards of living.

Western values are by no means secure. They are under ruthless attack by the academic elite on college campuses across America. These people want to replace personal liberty with government control; they want to replace equality with entitlement; they want to halt progress in the name of protecting the environment. As such they pose a much greater threat to our way of life than any terrorist or rogue nation. Multiculturalism and diversity are a cancer on our society and ironically, with our tax dollars and charitable donations to universities, we're feeding it.

Walter E. Williams
Ideas on Liberty
Return to Articles Page