The Triumph of Great Ideas Depends on Free Speech

By Larcomb, Jonathan | Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, October 23, 2019 | Go to article overview

The Triumph of Great Ideas Depends on Free Speech


Larcomb, Jonathan, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The


As protests in Hong Kong continue to make headlines, the world watches, saddened by the Chinese government’s crackdown on the speech of its citizens. The protesters’ demands for “full democracy” and an inquiry into police action have unfortunately resulted in violence throughout the city.

What we are seeing in Hong Kong is an extreme — but hardly isolated — example of what happens when the government controls what messages people are allowed to hear. Viewpoint discrimination is a threat to all of us and represents a growing problem that threatens freedom of speech here as well as abroad.

Here at home, we need not look further than our college campuses to find ample examples of viewpoint discrimination.

College campuses serve a pivotal role in developing the next generation of lawmakers, teachers, writers, and judges. It is in college that our young adults are supposed to be exposed to big, new ideas. It is here that they are meant to develop their perspectives and their understanding of domestic and global issues. Their perspectives and principles could one day change the world, but only if they are not suppressed.

Major movements in our country would never have happened without the First Amendment. Laws, attitudes, and society itself changed when individuals with ideas dared to stand up and engage in public debate. Widespread, firmly held beliefs about equality and personhood were reversed over the course of time, as compelling ideas were articulated over and over in public discourse.

Frederick Douglas and other leaders fueled the abolitionist movement through their speech, offering a different vision of what America could be. Later, women gained the right to vote and achieve political equality through the speech of suffragettes. Both movements voiced what used to be very unpopular opinions, relying on free speech to do so. But college campuses today are putting up roadblocks to this great transformative process before it even begins.

For example, administrators at California State University San Marcos denied a pro-life student group’s request for a small share of mandatory student fees to bring a pro-life speaker to campus. However, the university did not hesitate to use those same mandatory student fees to fund two leftist student centers — to the tune of $300,000 annually.

These leftists were given a mountain of money to bring in speakers lecturing on graphic sexual themes and other favored leftist topics. In stark contrast, pro-life student groups who wanted to defend the rights of the unborn and promote life were left without a voice. To express ideas contrary to those favored by the university was to be shunned. With the help of attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom, where I work, the pro-life student group at San Marcos challenged these viewpoint-discriminatory policies and a federal court held that the policies were unconstitutional. …

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