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Fri, Nov. 22

Column: Free speech defends against tyranny

One of our most cherished, fundamental, God-given rights, is freedom of speech. There has been an unrelenting attack on free speech for some time now. Many, if not most of our colleges, have imposed speech codes on their students. Some campuses have "free speech zones" and time restrictions as to when and where protests and debates can take place. Some universities charge student activity fees, but then restrict which organizations and clubs can operate under this umbrella. Possibly, with good intentions, these codes were implemented to shield the students from abrasive or abusive language that might distract them from their classes or studies. The result of these restrictions is to stifle debate, especially of controversial issues, and many of these regulations are unconstitutional.

Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), cites a case where a University of New Hampshire student posted a joke flyer about the "Freshman 15" and was evicted from his dorm room for doing so. A student was found guilty of racial harassment for merely reading a controversial book at Indiana-Purdue University.

There are many other examples, but this is the state of academic freedom at many of our institutions of higher learning. While these speech codes and practices started in the 1980s, and almost always have been found lacking when their legality and constitutionality are questioned in courts, their numbers are increasing, according to Lukianoff.

Especially in an academic setting, free speech should be encouraged, not discouraged. Without an open and frank discussion of BOTH sides of a contentious issue, how can those listening make an informed decision on which side is taking the correct position? How can young minds, or any minds for that matter, exercise critical thinking? Political correctness, it appears, is running rampant in our institutions of higher learning.

Political correctness is not quarantined to our colleges and universities. It spread from the academic community years ago and now infects our general population and the mass media. No one should be afraid of being called a racist for questioning the president's policies and decisions, just because this president happens to be bi-racial. Just the accusation of racism dampens debate.

If one demands that our borders be sealed before other immigration reforms are put into place, that person is considered and called a racist or obstructionist by many in the pro immigration/open borders reform movement. In fact, this current immigration bill needs to be debated vigorously by both sides. Will it cause more unemployment? Will it cause lower wages? Will it encourage more illegal border crossings? Does this legislation add billions of dollars in pork, that has absolutely nothing to do with immigration, to our already swollen budget? These questions, and many others, need to be answered and should be smartly debated before any legislation is passed.

Most legislation is too important, and results in consequences, both intended and unintended, not to be debated. When the Obamacare bill was still in the Senate, while speaking at the Legislative Conference for the National Association of Counties in March 2010, then Speaker Nancy Pelosi made the statement, "But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of controversy." This has to be the most mindless political argument in American history. Every viable side of a bill should be debated. Reasoned argument helps to define the issues.

Vigorous debate shows which side has the most credible evidence and arguments on their side. It should dissipate what Pelosi calls, "the fog of controversy."

Free speech, whether it is in legislative debate, candidate forums, newspaper opinion columns or radio or television talk shows, is supposed to provoke. It should evoke a response. It is not always pretty or antiseptic. Individuals who believe in their causes, ideals and ideas are not afraid of debate. In fact, they should urge the best and brightest of those with opposing views to enter the debate. This tests the strength of their positions and arguments. Those that are not secure in their views and convictions will not enter the debate. Instead they resort to the politically correct dodges that tend to stifle debate. They belittle the opposition with contrivances like accusing their opponents of being racists, or "flat-world believers," or easily led followers of some extremist view. Stifling or suppressing debate is a formula that leads us down the proverbial slippery slope that ultimately leads to tyranny.

Buz Williams is a retired Long Beach, Calif., police officer who has lived in Prescott since 2004.

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