“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.”
Benjamin Franklin, as Silence Dogood
2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. These 54 lines of Latin were signed at Runnymede on June 15, 1215. Today, we consider this document to be one of the foundations of our own Constitution. At the time, it accomplished little for the people of 13th century England. Within 6 weeks, it was voided, but it was never forgotten. 400 years later, the English used some of the ideas in the Magna Carta to recognize individual rights and less than 200 years after that, Jefferson and Madison scribed their own Great Charter. The radical notions scribed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1215 and by our own radicals 560 years later, have been under attack since the ink dried.
Today, our First Amendment, particularly freedoms of speech and religion, are being viciously hacked away under the guise of political correctness. On college campuses, supposedly the bastions of free thinking, students, professors, and guest speakers are being silenced out of fear that they may harm someone’s sensitivities.
It’s so bad, that even President Obama, who has hacked off huge parts of the Constitution himself, recently said;
“I’ve heard some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. I gotta tell you I don’t agree with that either. I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view.”
The sad thing is that it’s more than college students who are demanding coddling, its adults too.
Most contemporary democracies contain some form of speech protection, but ours is among the broadest. We protect the most odious words, flag burning, offensive art, etc. Many countries have settled on their own version of freedom of speech. As much as I’d like to shut some people up, I realize that one day, I may the one being muffled. It’s best to keep this freedom as broad as possible. If we do not, then we will be leaving it to the courts and Congress to implement restrictions. Once they start, the censorship will keep going.
As conservatives, we believe that civility is necessary to keep social order. Good manners in speech should never be shoved aside to win an argument, to advance a political position or even as a means of pushing back against political correctness. It’s ironic that today’s progressives are among the most vehement advocates for squelching offensive speech, while at the same time, spewing some of the most vile words to demean their opponents. We shouldn’t stoop to their level.
Franklin knew that restricting speech was the tyrant’s way of dousing the flames of rebellion. Free speech is necessary to transmit knowledge. It is an essential part of being human, allowing us self-expression and allowing us to develop as individuals. Most importantly, it allows for peaceful social change. The potential for change is a threat to those who want to grow and project the power of the state. To paraphrase Franklin, those would overthrow our liberty depend on subduing the freeness of speech. Many before us have defended against these attempts. We are duty bound to continue to defend our right to speak our thoughts from all attacks.
Worcester Tea Party