There has been a quiet war being waged against our civil rights at it’s most fundamental level. For years, there has been an element within our society that wholeheartedly wishes to divide, conquer and ultimately burn into ashes the core freedoms that define Americans as who we are. This war isn’t about “foreign oil” or even money. It’s about control. There are factions within our society that look to control what we see, hear, eat, and think. They want to decide for us what are appropriate ways to express ourselves. Only with the suppression of thought and expression can they then control everything else. Quash all dissenters, by any means necessary.
This process began years ago in America, and was initiated in a very clever way. They began innocently enough, with campaigns telling our children how inherently evil bullying is. On TV, in movies, at school, everywhere we looked, we saw the anti bullying message. Schools implemented “zero tolerance policies”. Offenders were summarily punished not just for beating up a smaller kid for his milk money. No… you see, bullying now included teasing that included what an educator determined to be mean spirited or offensive. The seed of the “hatespeech” construct had been planted.
These same kids grew and went to high school, and the issue only got worse. Burgeoning hormones that are the Hallmark of rapidly blooming puberty added a whole host of additional reasons why little Johnny or little Janie might get fucked with.
The natural response? Sensitivity training. Unfortunately, this training did nothing to train kids to be less sensitive. To the contrary, it drilled deeper into our psyche the idea that teasing is as wrong and offensive words are as damaging as an atomic wedgie. A few more bricks were removed from the wall protecting free speech.
Fast forward a couple more years. These kids are now in college, and thanks to social media, they are “woke”. Society has made and distributed boxes that everyone must fit in, and labels they must wear. The “sensitivity training” begun years earlier has grown and adapted. Now, bullying and teasing are joined by messages from anybody with a difference of opinion, as well as any word, image, sound, or idea that challenges those of someone else. The turmoil caused by differing ideas spawned the need for safe spaces, trigger warnings, micro aggressions, and even rioting on campuses and in college towns.
The emerging result has been a trend of free speech suppression in colleges and universities across the United States. Student Activities Groups have booked dynamic speakers in an effort to showcase a different idea, only to have the speaker protested and even in some cases, arbitrarily cancelled by college administration. The very institutions that once we’re beacons of independent thought were differing ideas were not only valued but nurtured in the interest of honest learning have been reduced to indoctrination institutions and echo chambers. While it’s true that public colleges and universities are required by law to uphold the first amendment, enforcement is lax at best, non-existent at worst. Even worse, private universities have no mandate at all to honor our first amendment rights.
You may be asking where this is all going? Well on March 21, President Trump took a bold step toward correcting this problem. He signed an executive order that would render any public college or University that violates the first amendment provisions ineligible for federal grant monies. These sanctions also extended to private institutions that fail to uphold their free speech standards. The full text can be viewed here.
One would think that an order such as this would be non confrontational because it protects expression uniformly. This, unfortunately is not the case. The response has been interesting to say the least.
Colleges, of course, object to the idea. They see this as an over reach primarily, I suspect, because it forces them to protect our liberty, and reaches into their pockets if they don’t comply. Trump naysayers, who basically object only because Trump advocates for it, maintain that these violations of civil rights are best to be handled in court. This idea strongly favors the offending institution, because the vast majority of students are unable to afford even the discovery costs of a lawsuit like this, costs which easily and frequently reach into the millions, and of which little to none is compensated after a successful tort. This leaves the victimized party to hope for a settlement, which, luckily for the institution, usually includes no admission of wrongdoing and a gag order to prevent negative press.
This faulty thinking was even exhibited in the official statement by never-trumper Lamar Alexander.
Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) released the following statement on the Trump Administration’s Higher Education Executive Order:
“I agree with the administration that colleges should provide better data on student debt and put some ‘skin in the game’ to reduce student borrowing. And I agree that colleges should punish hecklers who veto free speech, and stop coddling students to protect them from disagreeable points of view. But I don’t want to see Congress or the President or the department of anything creating speech codes to define what you can say on campus. The U.S. Constitution guarantees free speech. Federal courts define and enforce it. The Department of Justice can weigh in. Conservatives don’t like it when judges try to write laws, and conservatives should not like it when legislators and agencies try to rewrite the Constitution.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan organization that is devoted to protecting the rights of students and faculty on college campuses all across the country.
From their website:
These include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience—the essential qualities of liberty for every American. FIRE defends those whose rights are denied on campus, regardless of identity or viewpoint, and we educate those on and off campus about these rights and their importance. New Media Central contacted FIRE for their perspective on this executive order and it’s implications. In response, we received an official release from their Executive Director, Robert Shibley:
Since 1999, FIRE has defended freedom of expression on our nation’s campuses by fighting for public universities to honor the First Amendment and for private universities to fulfill their voluntary promises of free speech and academic freedom. On March 2, before an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference, President Trump announced that he would soon sign an executive order that would require colleges receiving federal grants to protect free speech on their campuses.
Today, the President followed up on that speech by signing an executive order that, among other things, directs federal agencies to “take appropriate steps” to “promote free inquiry” at institutions that receive federal research and education grants, including through compliance with the First Amendment or fulfillment of their institutional promises. To the extent that today’s executive order asks colleges and universities to meet their existing legal obligations, it should be uncontroversial.
FIRE will watch closely to see if today’s action furthers the meaningful, lasting policy changes that FIRE has secured over two decades — or results in unintended consequences that threaten free expression and academic freedom. We note that the order does not specify how or by what standard federal agencies will ensure compliance, the order’s most consequential component. FIRE has long opposed federal agency requirements that conflict with well-settled First Amendment jurisprudence. We will continue to do so.
FIRE knows from years of experience that censorship silences students and faculty from across the ideological and political spectrum. Any principled and effective defense of freedom of expression must protect student and faculty expressive rights without regard to viewpoint. To secure the benefits of the “marketplace of ideas” for campus communities and for our nation as a whole, all students and faculty must be free to peacefully speak their minds.
As our work demonstrates, campus censorship is a real and continuing problem. We appreciate the executive branch’s attention to this issue. As a proudly nonpartisan organization, FIRE will continue to lead the fight for campus speech rights and academic freedom regardless of the political party in power or the popularity of the speech at issue. The First Amendment and freedom of expression require no less.
Make no mistake, the threat to our freedom of speech is very real. If we are to continue to embrace the liberty and freedoms that define us as uniquely American, we must do whatever we can to safeguard our foundational principles. Once we allow these rights to be stripped away, I assure you they’re gone forever, and with them, the very principles that are at the core of what being an American means.