Free Speech Is A Fundamental American Value

Free Speech Is A Fundamental American Value

Free speech was so important to our Founding Fathers that they enshrined this basic right in the First Amendment of our Bill of Rights.

But today, it often seems like free speech only applies to “acceptable speech.” College campuses are rife with “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces.” Every other week, it seems like another scheduled speech has to be canceled because a group of students is offended. Professors who write about politically unpalatable ideas are publicly shamed, or worse, fired. 

Consider Samuel Abrams a professor at Sarah Lawrence College who wrote a New York Times op-ed about political bias in college administrations a few months ago. This week, students at Sarah Lawrence College occupied the college president’s office demanding that Abrams’ tenure be reviewed for daring to support a “difference in dialogue.”

Of course, this is the opposite of free speech. True free speech is summed up by the famous quote by Stephen G. Tallentyre in The Friends of Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  Alternatively, some may prefer George Orwell’s more modern version: “I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.”

Sadly, the speech police on college campuses is destroying people’s lives and careers. In the process, we are teaching younger generations to fear ideas they disagree with. We are teaching them to use outrage instead of debate, to reflexively take offense when there is none, to insist on their moral superiority instead of thinking through arguments and questioning preconceived notions.

There was a time when going to college was supposed to be educational. The college experience was supposed to be eye-opening and expose students to new ways of thinking about the world and themselves instead of reinforcing the ideas and opinions they came in with. 

Without a change, the new speech police will break down the fabric of our society. When people can’t disagree respectfully, they can’t have relationships with people outside of their ideological bubble. They can’t sit down to dinner with family members without erupting into a political war. They can’t be friends – even Facebook friends – with people who support different political parties. They end up seeing the world in an unsustainable black and white – everyone is either friend or foe. 

One of our favorite stories is that Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and their families shared New Year’s Eve dinner together every year for decades. The two justices could not be ideologically farther apart. (Scalia used to say about Ginsburg: “What’s not to like – except her views on the law?”) But they respected each other as human beings, as legal scholars, and as friends.

Free speech is a fundamental American value; it serves as a foundation for our democracy and our communities. We cannot function, let alone thrive, in a civil society without it.

10 Replies to “Free Speech Is A Fundamental American Value

  • Bernice W. RAST

    By Bernice W. RAST

    Reply

    I agree with the above statement on our First Amendent

  • Bernice W Rast

    By Bernice W Rast

    Reply

    I am so proud to join Standforamericanow.
    I love Nikki Haley and I believe she will have a
    wonderful chance of becoming the nomi00nee for
    the Rupublican Party in 2024. She was the perfect choice as the Ambassador to the United Nations and she proved her worth during her tenure. Nikki Haley for President!! 2024

    • Dave

      By Dave

      Reply

      And the best way to lead into this would be Nikki Haley for Vice-President in 2020

    • Tracy Delaney

      By Tracy Delaney

      Reply

      Yes, I agree! She would be the absolute best representative for American women as our 1st woman President! Nikki in 2024!🇺🇸

  • Susan

    By Susan

    Reply

    How do we get our free speech back?

  • Dick Leppky

    By Dick Leppky

    Reply

    I’m Canadian and subscribed to Nikki’s site because I respected so much the strength she demonstrated at the (abominable ) UN – especially in support of Israel. Go Nikki!

  • Becky Hutton

    By Becky Hutton

    Reply

    Well said! I agree totally with this blog post. Now, how do we make free speech mean what it truly means? Do you have any ideas as to how to reform this situation on our college and university campuses?

  • Pamela

    By Pamela

    Reply

    Love it and right to the point !!

  • DaVel Walker

    By DaVel Walker

    Reply

    Haley for President! I would be honored to help you change the world via your gentle-strength in the White House! God Bless You and God Bless America–land that I love!

  • Marc Jacob

    By Marc Jacob

    Reply

    This post is spot on. The demise of debate as a way to reach better understanding and get us closer to truth is troubling. That we are training millions of our future leaders to substitute outrage for debate makes me fear for the future of civil discourse and of reason in our great country. As a practicing attorney, I am friendly with many people with whom I disagree (quite openly) on many meaningful things like law policy, religion, etc. I think you can come to truly appreciate someone else through civil discourse on meaningful topics with them. For serious policy issues, debate in an appropriate forum might be appropriate (if we still have the attention span for this). To be honest, if everyone thought exactly the same, it would be pretty boring and we would never learn anything new about them, ourselves or ever sharpen our own skills or minds, and we’d certainly not have much incentive to change or grow.

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