OPINION: Don’t use free speech to silence free speech

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and not necessarily those of Campus Reform or The Leadership Institute.

A Princeton University student newspaper editor claims that campus efforts to promote free speech are products of white supremacism and alt-right ideology.

The “free speech debate on campus — between supposedly pro-free-speech conservative students and their suppressive liberal peers — is an ideological farce, driven by alt-right figures who are enabled by irresponsible students,” The Daily Princetonian associate editor Samuel Aftel writes.

Aftel says that “some student groups” at Princeton and elsewhere conflate their school’s treatment of “hate speech” with its “broader position on free inquiry and democracy.” This, in turn, leads them to “invite heinous ideologues to campus to test their university’s tolerance for expressions of hatred and white supremacy.”

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The student editor goes on to lament UC Berkeley College Republicans’ decision to host conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos in Feb. 2017. He expressed particular displeasure with the invitation that a campus conservative student publication, The Berkeley Patriot, extended Yiannopoulos once the school canceled his Feb. 2017 event following riots in the city. To Aftel, it seems, mass criminality is merely a form of “aggressive protesting.”

“This student group [the Patriot], despite not even supporting Yiannopoulos, believed the best way to stand up for academic free speech was to invite back to campus a white supremacist who could have put the lives of undocumented Berkeley students — and others — in jeopardy,” Aftel asserts.

No, Sam. Yiannopolous did nothing but show up and talk. The only ones endangering people were the rioters. Yiannopolous is far from the most savory figure American politics has to offer, but his provocative delivery style should not provoke silencing. 

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The point of free speech efforts is not, as the student editor suggests, “promot[ing] hatred and bigotry, sow[ing] further ideological division, [and] provok[ing] an intense clash between liberal protesters and conservative students.”

The point is rather to break the stranglehold that leftist ideological orthodoxy has over the intellectual life of universities and, increasingly, the culture at large. 

Free speech is not contradiction for contradiction’s sake, nor is it hatred or bigotry. It is the pursuit of truth. 

It is not racist to say that the first duty of the American state is the common good of its own people, and that to fulfill this duty, it must regulate its borders. This duty applies to all Americans, regardless of their ethnic heritage.

It is not bigoted to say that homosexual acts are morally disordered. One cannot be bigoted against a deed. Those who do truly hate same-sex attracted individuals are the fringe minority.

It is not hateful to say that men are men and women are women. That is simply an observation of a biological fact that cannot be changed by all of the ideology and sophistry in the world. It has no bearing on anyone’s dignity as a person.

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It is not misogynistic to say that the intentional killing of a human being before his birth, euphemistically called abortion, is murder. If a woman has no right to kill her child after he is born, then neither does she have such a right at any other time before his birth. His body and his life are his own, to which he has his own right; they are not his mother’s, nor anyone else’s, to destroy on a whim.

Free speech is not an alt-right, white supremacist invention. The alt-right, as epitomized by Richard Spencer and his ilk, do not even believe in free speech, and have admitted as much. To the contrary, free speech exists precisely to prevent ideologues in positions of power from silencing their opposition.

Aftel is right to say that free speech is “a crucial foundation of a liberal arts, truth-seeking education.” But he is wrong to conflate free speech itself with its worst uses. Please, speak against the real bigots as much as you like—but mind the hypocrisy of using free speech to condemn free speech.