• Warren Bell

Are We Incrementally Giving Up Our Right to Free Speech?

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Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

The Third Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; (my italics) or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Court decisions have extended this prohibition to all levels of government.

One might think that, with these two bulwarks of human rights so clear on the matter, freedom of speech is an unassailable concept. Instead, freedom of speech is under attack throughout the world, especially on U.S. college campuses.

Nowhere in either the Declaration of Human Rights or the Constitution is there any mention of a freedom from being offended. Freedom from offense is a “right” of recent manufacture. It derives from the recovery movement of the last century. This movement promoted the idea that we are all victims of abuse of some kind. People were encouraged to view the world through the eyes of a victim. They preached that all humans are fragile and easily damaged by any speech they deemed hurtful. Censorship was postulated as a moral necessity.

In the February 22, 2015 issue of the Washington Post, writer Wendy Kaminer criticizes university administrations for adopting the recovery philosophy in their cultures. They sought to protect minority groups on campus from being exposed to speech they considered racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise discriminatory. Kaminer wrote that, “Popular therapeutic culture defined verbal ‘assaults’ and other forms of discrimination by subjective, emotional responses of self-proclaimed victims.” She further points out that, “The tendency to take subjective allegations of victimization at face value—instrumental in contemporary censorship campaigns—also leads to a presumption of guilt and disregard to due process.” She concludes, “This is a dangerously misguided approach to justice…Instead of advancing equality, it’s teaching future generations of leaders the ‘virtues’ of autocracy.”

Unfortunately, the media world seems to be collaborating in this assault on free speech. When gunmen attacked a recent cartoon contest in Texas because the subject was images of the Prophet Mohammed, one of the frequently asked questions by reporters was, “Should such a contest have been allowed to take place?” Where was the outrage at the attempted massacre?

I wrote in a previous blog post about my belief that “political correctness” is a totalitarian concept beloved by absolute dictators like Stalin, Hitler, and the Kim Dynasty of North Korea. Criminalizing an individual’s thoughts, no matter how much we may disagree with them, is anathema to a free society. What happened to the “marketplace of ideas” that educators and politicians of both parties used to praise? Who gave progressives or conservatives the authority to decide what the rest of us may think and say? It is time they realized that millions of Americans believe that “political correctness” is being taken to the absurd.

In the April 29, 2014 issue of The Washington Post, columnist Kathleen Parker decried the death of straightforward speech in an article entitled, “When sensitivity triumphs over truth.” Her unifying theme is that, “We are slowly becoming a nation that pays greater heed to sensitivity than truth, and that prefers the comfort of committee-crafted thoughts that neither offend nor enlighten.”

I, for one, refuse to see the world through the eyes of a victim. I admire straightforward communication. I hate racism, despise any form of government that oppresses individual initiative, and have been called a feminist because of my views on full equality for women. Based on my study of science, I believe that sexual orientation and gender identification are hard-wired into the brain, and governments should let the subject alone. But I’ll be damned if I’ll cede to any other human the right to tell me what to think or say. I’ll leave that to God.

The accompanying cartoon from the Miami Herald, which was reprinted in The Washington Post, inspired this blog post.

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