With All Due Respect, Colleges Must Protect Free Speech

By Eric Hogue Published on June 20, 2023

The free exchange of ideas works best when exercised with respect. As president of a Christian university, it is my responsibility to ensure the exchange of free speech on campus is moderated, protected and encouraged. It is the duty of any college administration to balance the need for open and honest dialogue with sensitivity and respect. At the same time, it is the duty of the college student to rise and meet the challenge of encountering uncomfortable topics with an open mind in order to meet the expectations of the college program.

Restraining Free Expression in the Name of Social Justice

Free speech allows individuals to express their opinions, thoughts and ideas without fear of censorship or persecution. But lately, there has been a trend on college campuses to curb free speech and limit free expression in the name of social justice. We’ve seen the results. Ironically, the mantle of diversity, equity and inclusion has been used to exclude viewpoints which don’t conform to a prescribed worldview. Faculty, speakers and students have been admonished to not present ideas some might find painful or aggressive.

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This is not respect, but restraint. It robs the student of academic content; but more than that, restraining speech to what’s acceptable only serves those who occupy the role of acceptor. Whether calculated or not, this de facto censorship has taught students that the proper role of authority is to suppress ideas. This is not a lesson colleges and universities in a free society should teach.

The Apostle Paul Speaks of a Better Way

There is a better way. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Galatians (5:22-23), speaks about the fruits of the Spirit, nine virtues adopted by the Christian who walks closely with God. The nine fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. A Christ-centered education includes all nine. It is to be sensitive to the feelings of others and to avoid speech that may be hateful, discriminatory or objectively offensive. It is equally important that education includes open and honest dialogue. Achieving this balance requires patience, kindness and great self-control.

Free Speech is Essential to a Functioning Democratic Society

The effort to embrace the open exchange of ideas should not be limited to Christian universities. This is why I support the movement among many colleges and universities to review, if not renew, their free speech programs. An excellent example of what’s possible is legislation introduced to create the Salmon P. Chase Center for Civics, Culture and Society at Ohio State University, a school to be dedicated to free expression and academic inquiry.

Historically, it has been academia which prompts politicians to foster institutes free from political bias and promotion. But now we see these roles reversed, with politicians rising to promote free expression (to the chagrin of some academics).

Free speech is a God-given Constitutional right essential to the functioning of a democratic society. A complete college education dives deep into understanding this right. Such an education also empowers a student not to be swayed by ideologies of the moment, but to compare new ideas against centuries of accrued knowledge. It empowers students to go forth into the world as fully functioning members, and perhaps leaders, of our society.

More than ever, it is vitally important for students to learn how to respectfully and lovingly employ free speech, to stand up for the importance of free expression and to resist every attempt to limit both. This includes sensitive, practical measures to faithfully support those who are censored, to lovingly counter those who seek to silence voices of dissent and to patiently master topics so they can be shared openly, freely and according to the fruits of the spirit of Christian character.

 

Eric Hogue is the president of Colorado Christian University, the leading interdenominational Christian university in the Rocky Mountain region. Hogue is known for his roles as a former political candidate; practicing theologian and pastor; and long-tenured radio, television, and media professional. He is the author of The Winning Side of the Ask: The Heart and Skills of the Donor-Centric Professional Fundraiser, a book dedicated to helping nonprofits design a thriving philanthropic culture.

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