If you listen carefully to the Democrat leaders on Capitol Hill you can hear the whispers of fascism creeping into their normal everyday conversation. The ease in which Democrats discuss the idea of restricting the First Amendment rights of their constituents should drive fear into the hearts of all Americans, but that simply doesn’t seem to be happening.
On Tuesday, the Senate held hearings on Free Speech and how the current campus climate is stifling the First Amendment rights of many students, teachers, and citizens. During the hearings, the Senate heard from some prominent professors who argued that the attacks on free speech that we’re seeing across the country can have a deadly serious effect on other areas of civil life. Weakening one of our “God given” rights could quickly lead to the erosion of other rights. The professors also admitted that every right has its limits, and speech is limited by the threat that could be posed by said speech. (Think of the old argument about shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.) However, they argued that this limit could not be imposed on speakers by others who disagreed with their speech (often called “the heckler’s veto”) because this was the very essence of the First Amendment. Sadly, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and other Democrats (including Dick Durbin) did not seem to agree as they argued that threats posed by opponents of certain speech must also be taken into account when deciding whether or not speech was permissible.
After reading the First Amendment out loud, Feinstein said, “The fact of the matter is that there are certain occasions on which individuals assemble not to act peaceably, but to act as destructively as they possibly can… When you have a set group of people that come to create a disturbance, some of them even wearing masks or wearing certain clothing, what do you do? … I do believe that the university has a right to protect its students from demonstrations once they become acts of violence.”
Legal expert, Professor Eugene Volokh disagreed arguing:
“There are of course times, as Senator Feinstein pointed out, that the University isn’t trying to suppress speech because it finds it offensive but because enough people who are willing to stoop to violence find it offensive that there is then the threat of a violent reaction to such speech. But I tend to agree with Senator Cruz’s view that that kind of a heckler’s veto should not be allowed.
“The question was asked ‘When you have a set group of people who come to create a disturbance, what do you do?’ I think the answer is to make sure they don’t create a disturbance and to threaten them with punishment, meaningful punishment if they do create a disturbance. And not to essentially let them have their way by suppressing the speech that they are trying to suppress.
“One of the basics of psychology that I think we’ve learned, and all of us who are parents I think have learned it very first hand, is behavior that is rewarded is repeated. When thugs learn that all they need to do in order to suppress speech is to threaten violence then there’ll be more such threats from all over the political spectrum. And I think the solution to that is to say that the speech will go on and if that means bringing in more law enforcement and making sure that those people who do act violently or otherwise physically disruptively that they be punished.”
While Volokh made stunningly simple and clear argument, Senators Durbin and Feinstein continued to push back, arguing that the threat of violence from protesters was enough to shut down speech on campus or anywhere else where violence was threatened.
Feinstein continued Durbin’s argument by saying that sometimes the danger posed is greater than the capability of the school or local authorities to handle. Volokh countered that when the police could no longer control threats of violence or lawbreakers our society would indeed be in a perilous place. Feinstein continued to press the Professors by wondering if they expected schools to always be prepared to deal with protests and threats? The professors argued that yes, schools should always accommodate speech, particularly when invited by students of that school and for credible reason. Can we also just add, that when a school schedules a speech that might be controversial, it’s really not that difficult for the school to coordinate with local authorities to provide for student and campus safety.
Sadly, Feinstein just never seemed to understand that if you allow the hecklers to shut down free speech… then free speech is functionally dead.
Professor Frederick Lawrence: I think the way to start with this is with a strong presumption in favor of the speech, particularly if it’s speech that’s coming from a student group who has invited somebody.
Feinstein: No matter how radical, offensive, biased, prejudiced, fascist the program is? You should find a way to accommodate it.
Professor Lawrence: If we’re talking about the substance of the program, not the danger and credible threats but the substance of the program, then yes.
Folks, if the Democrat leaders can’t seem to grasp the concept of free speech how are their followers ever going to get it? If this hearing is indicative of the Democrat Party today… our nation is in very big trouble.
Here’s the entire hearing – Volokh on free speech starts about 1:10:00 into the video and Feinstein jousts with Professor Lawrence at about 1:46:00.
Thankfully, not everyone in the room was a Democrat. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) delivered a short statement that cut to the heart of the matter explaining that free speech is important and that it must be defended at all cost.
“The Best Solution For Bad Ideas And Speech, Is Better Ideas And Speech.”
Conservative Review put together some of Cruz’s best moments from the hearing:
In his opening statement during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “The Assault on the First Amendment on College Campuses,” Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, offered a robust defense of free speech, criticizing colleges and universities that have “quietly rolled over” to intolerant and bullying liberal student bodies.
“If universities become homogenizing institutions that are focused on inculcating and indoctrinating rather than challenging, we will lose what makes universities great,” Cruz said. “The First Amendment is about opinions that you passionately disagree with and the right of others to express them.”
“College administrators and faculties have become complicit in functioning essentially as speech police – deciding what speech is permissible and what speech isn’t,” Cruz said. “You see violent protests … enacting effectively a heckler’s veto where violent thugs come in and say ‘this particular speaker, I disagree with what he or she has to say. And therefore, I will threaten physical violence if the speech is allowed to happen.”…
“What an indictment of our university system,” Cruz declared. “If ideas are strong, if ideas are right, you don’t need to muzzle the opposition. You should welcome the opposition. When you see college faculties and administrators being complicit or active players in silencing those with opposing views, what they are saying is they are afraid.”
“They are afraid that their ideas cannot stand the dialectic, cannot stand opposition, cannot stand facts or reasoning, or anything on the other side. And it is only through force and power that their ideas can be accepted.”
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