Liberty and Freedom from Speech


Disturbingly, there is a movement spreading around some of our universities and elsewhere to promote having a “Freedom from Speech,” otherwise known as a freedom from having your feelings hurt by “insensitive” speech. This has resulted in so-called “safety zones” in which people are shielded from discomforting thoughts. To this end, students and others have received lowered grades or otherwise been censored for using phrases like “the most qualified person should get the job,” or “America is a melting pot,” or for calling people who do not have white skin “People of Color.” (As to that last issue, when I was in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica, it was common for a male with Chinese ancestry to be called “Chino,” a Black “Negro,” someone who was thin “Flaco,” or a North American like me “Gringo.” Using these names was simply descriptive and not at all disparaging, and I look forward to the day that this will be true in our communities as well.)

But setting up these zones of “Safety from Discomfort” is the antithesis of Liberty, because it not only stifles free speech, it also stifles thinking. Fortunately our country is better than that. Once again, remember back in 1977 when the American Nazi Party planned to march in their uniforms replete with Swastikas in a predominantly Jewish community in Skokie, Illinois? Reprehensible and insensitive as it was, the United States Supreme Court rightly ruled that even those misguided people had a right to freedom of speech, such that they were allowed to march. Of course – and this is the key – just because some people have the right to free speech does not mean that they have the right to make us listen. But providing a cocoon wherein people will not be confronted by thoughts that might make them uncomfortable is contrary to our principles of promoting dissent. So the campus “Cyberbullies” in this case are actually the ones trying to protect build a zone of protection from discomfort. To quote George Will in one of his political columns, if this is “about American higher education: What, exactly, is it higher than?”

Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)
2012 Libertarian candidate for Vice President, along with
Governor Gary Johnson as the candidate for President