The Attack on Free Speech was Predictable

By George Yancey Published on May 14, 2017

There has been unrest, sometimes even riots, on college campuses for as long as I can remember. This has intensified since last fall’s election. I have commented on the rise of leftist violence in our society and believe that, although sad, it is not surprising to see it on the rise. Given the results of some of my research, progressive activists’ violence is easily predictable.

My work on cultural progressive activists and those with anti-Christian hate has revealed considerable overlap between the two groups. They also share common themes. One is that they don’t think their political and religious opponents deserve a place in social discourse. They claim that cultural and religious conservatives’ ideas offered are so debased, they shouldn’t even be expressed in public.

Religious Conservatives’ Opinions Don’t Deserve a Hearing

Here are two of the many responses my respondents made about keeping conservative Christians silent in public. We can easily see how such thinking could lead to attempts to shut up other conservatives as well.

… to date the Christian right has caused far more damage to our country’s well-being than Muslim terrorists. They also continue to impede our ability to focus on adult-like debates that cause the development of optimal policies … Our country risks decay given their positions and their becoming ever more crazy in their advocacy. (Male, age 46-55, bachelor degree)

Re free speech………I just wish that they wouldn’t mix their religion with their political views and then trying to pass laws that are affected by that. The abortion and gay marriage is something they should just shut up about. (Female, age 46-55, bachelor degree)

My respondents said they were in favor of opponents’ rights to hold different ideas, and that they wouldn’t harass them for it. Yet they added that social and religious conservatives’ opinions didn’t deserve a hearing in public.

The Cleansing of Conservative Christian Thought

One has to wonder how far such people might eventually go to prevent “bad” speech.

We’ve had two opposite forces competing in their minds: They support free speech on the one hand and they forbid their opponents a chance to express their opinions on the other. The many violent protests this year show which force has won out in the minds of many leftists. Their willingness to silence others’ opinions in that way calls into doubt any claims they make about free speech.

The reason some leftists celebrate speeches being cancelled, while ignoring any violence that led to those speeches being shut down, is because they’re fine with silencing certain ideas. This also explains why college students are likely to support speech codes to block the expression of unapproved ideas.

One has to wonder how far such people might eventually go to prevent “bad” speech. What if violence failed to stop it? Would they support laws that directly punished the speakers? If so, would the penalty be a fine? Jail? Would organizations hiring the speaker be kicked off campus? Audited by the IRS? A few years ago I would not have imagined such scenarios even being thinkable. But then again, I didn’t think a few years ago that the former DNC head would support banning so-called “hate speech,” either.

Working Together to Free Speech

My hope is that pressure from true free speech liberals might start doing some good and reducing this violence.

I support free speech. I am a Christian. I am not a leftist. My words aren’t likely to persuade those who want to shut conservatives down. I am encouraged, though, by some leftists who have still been willing to support even Ann Coulter’s free speech. Leonard Pitts is one of them. These leftists could be the key to putting pressure on members of the violent left — until they finally admit that everyone has a right to free speech in the public square.

Until we have more allies like Pitts, though, we should do what we can to make it uncomfortable for leftists to ignore violence in their own ranks. Let’s hold them accountable to their stated values of freedom and peace. When they shut down speech with violence, we should not shy away from using words such as hypocrisy and bigotry to describe them.

The recent rise in violence was predictable. My hope is that pressure from true free speech liberals, and other critics like myself, might raise the level of shame until it starts doing some good and reducing this violence.

We have to put the pressure on. Otherwise the violence will keep getting worse.

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