A frightening wave of suppression of freedom of expression has swept the U.S., and most concerning of all, it is occurring in our universities and schools. If the university has meaning at all in democratic societies, it is as a stage on which ideas – all ideas – are permitted to compete for the considerzation of both student and teacher alike. Alas! in the current infringement of free speech, it is too often the faculty, products of the hectic 60s now arrived at the lectern, who are participants and even sponsors.
- A Palestinian human rights activist opposed to the anti-Israel BDS movement was threatened, and eventually forced to cancel a talk during a tour of Chicago-area universities.
- Students at California State University, Los Angeles, barricaded entrances to a theater where conservative commentator Ben Shapiro was to deliver a speech, ironically, about censorship and diversity on college campuses.
- A Florin High School Sacramento, CA, sophomore was suspended for recording a video showing her principal getting body slammed with the rationale she had put it on Facebook, and then, that it was a security concern.
- South Carolina’s Trumbull High School Principal Marc Guarino tried to cancel a student production of RENT, calling it too controversial, until more than 1,500 signatures and growing national media coverage forced an acknowledgement of freedom of school drama and musical theater companies.
- New Hampshire parents have limited what their kids learn in school under state law even if the material is deemed educationally valuable by the faculty and sometimes has led to the removal of material for other people’s kids as well whose parents want them to be taught that material.
- One in six colleges impose “free speech zones” that restrict liberty and violate First Amendment rights, as for example, Colorado Mesa University, where the administration provides only a thumbnail freespeech patio for a student body of nearly 10,000.
- Despite teachers’ efforts to highlight the value of thw award-winning book, Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, it has been banned from the Sweet Home School Districtin Oregon in 8th grade classrooms.
- Pennsylvania’s Muhlenberg School District Middle School English teachers were told that books from a National Council of Teachers of English conference could not be added to their classroom libraries before they were “checked”.
- The Kansas Board of Regents’ failed to revise a policythat says a university chief executive officer can discipline employees, up to termination, for “improper use of social media,” and to restore an art exhibition at the Dykes Library titled “Tom Gregg: Unsold – Grenades, Cute Animals and Bad Apples.”
- Georgia’s Kennesaw State reinstated an article about lynching from an opening exhibition at the new Bernard A. Zuckerman Museum of Art, after recognizing that the potentially offensive content could provide an opportunity to discuss the complexity of historical figures.
“The role of a university is to promote the clash of ideas, to test the results of research with other scholars, and to impart new knowledge to students,” as the last British governor of Hong Kong and former European Union commissioner for external affairs has written. “Freedom of speech is thus fundamental to what universities are, enabling them to sustain a sense of common humanity and uphold the mutual tolerance and understanding that underpin any free society. … [T]he irony today is that some of the most worrying attacks on these values have been coming from inside universities.”
In the end, society must take a certain risk if the fundamental right of freedom of expression in a democracy is to be maintained. That so many of the recent flagrant violations of free speech have taken place in an academic environment is the most worrying of what is, of course, a continuing battle between concerns for public safety and the state of mental health.