Campus Speech Codes

“There is a growing awareness among Americans that religious freedom in our country has come under sustained pressures. In the public square where freedom of religion meets public policy, it becomes clearer all the time that there is a high price to be paid for being true to one’s conscience.” Matthew J. Franck

“The ivy so long associated with some of our most beautiful colleges and universities are, increasingly, poisoned with speech zones and political correctness codes targeting men and women of faith.” Timothy S. Goeglein

The New Campus Speech Codes

Timothy S. Goeglein, Citizen, September 2014, p. 26, 27

There is a growing awareness among Americans that religious freedom in our country has come under sustained pressures. In the public square where freedom of religion meets public policy, it becomes clearer all the time that there is a high price to be paid for being true to ones conscience.

—Matthew J. Franck

As September dawns, millions of Americans are flocking to college campuses to start the new academic year. The leaves may be changing all around our beloved republic, but what seems to be unchanging—and in fact, is becoming tiresomely predictable—is a kind of new intolerance on campuses aimed at the expression of one’s faith and free speech in general.

The ivy so long associated with some of our most beautiful colleges and universities is, increasingly, poisoned with speech zones and politicaltorrectness codes targeting men and women of faith. Christians in particular are feeling the serrated edges of this new intolerance, but the scope of the problem is so wide that its tentacles are putting a squeeze on our most basic and foundational liberties.

This has important ramifications for what it means to be a citizen of unchanging moral convictions in the realms of higher learning.

Uniformity is the New Diversity

At Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania earlier this year, a student expressed opposition to a pending speech by Princeton law professor Robbie George, one of the few well-known and highly regarded Christian conservatives in the Ivy League. The student wrote in The Daily Swarthmore in February that “what really bothered me is, the whole idea is that at a liberal arts college, we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion.” Not to be outdone, the campus newspaper The Har­vard Crimson editorialized that academic freedom, once so highly and categorically guarded as the ideal that protects free-speech rights, should be replaced by something the editorial board called “academic jus­tice”—which to most readers of fair mind is defined as the abolition of other views and opinions. The writer specifically complained about Harvey Mansfield, a longtime professor of government and one of the only conservatives at Harvard. One of Mansfield’s colleagues described the editorial as “the closing of the collegiate mind.”

It is not only elite campuses in the Northeast which are growing increasingly uncomfortable with free-speech rights, but also some in the Midwest. Highly regarded institutions such as Oberlin College in Ohio have seriously considered (and wisely rejected), the use of something called “trigger warnings” for faculty preparing their students to read great literature.

The trigger warnings would say something like, “Be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression” while reading the classics. (For those who have never heard of “cissexism” it means bias against people who believe they were born in the wrong body and seek to change their gender.

Professorial Arguments

The writer Norman Podhoertz observed in 1989 that college campuses are increasingly becoming “island(s) of repression in a sea of freedom.” His observation is increasingly becoming fact.

In an article published in the Spring 2014 Claremont Review of Books, titled “Non Campus Mentis,” Uni­versity of Colorado-Boulder Prof. Steven F. Hayward observes that “even the gender-defining community is having a hard time keeping up … the standard short­hand is LGBTQ (for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Trans-gendered, and Queer); at Bowdoin College in Maine, it’s LGBTQIA (adding Intersex and Asexual); while down the road at Bates College [also in Maine] it’s LGBTIQQ (the second Q for Questioning).”

Another UC-Boulder professor only deepened this toxic and growing divide over speech, saying Hayward’s observations were “bordering on … hate speech” and that perhaps censure should follow.

Quite apart from that incident, it is as if men and women of fai{& are now viewed in much the same way as the notorious racist Bull Connors was during the Civil Rights era for articulating their most deeply held moral and religious principles—their consciences.:Most disturbing is that this is taking place in an atmosphere that is supposed to foster and not hinder dialogue, conversation and the general exchange of ideas which might not always conform to the aggressively secular environment that has bedeviled our citadels of higher education.

This culture of intolerance leaves one semi-speechless at how Orwellian it is. Where does if all lead, and where will it all end? In Orwell’s phrase, will we see the emergence of a “Ministry of Truth” to arbi­trate what can and cannot be said or thought?

The Courage to Stand Firm

For Christians, it is not an exaggeration to say that, in the history of our beloved country, there has never been an era on campus more oppressive than the cur­rent one. The suppression of free speech is increas­ingly taken as a standard operating procedure.

The writer Herbert London is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of a marvelous book, The Transformational Decide (University Press of America, 2012), in which he thinks deeply about free expression in this new century.

In a recent essay, he observed, “This is the time for an awakening that recognizes our strengths, the resid­ual resilience that still exists in some quarters. And it is time to challenge the bold revolution that is now conventional wisdom with a counter-cultural revolu­tion based on kindness, traditional principles, and a ‘ belief in a higher authority. It is asking for a lot, but then where is the present road we are on taking us?”

That last question should be ringing in our ears, and it begs an even deeper one: Whither the fate and state of freedom in America?

If this rising generation of young men and women of faith will not contest the new intolerance that is being foisted upon them, and thereby take their place as a new counter-culture rooted in the hope and con­fidence of all that God teaches us about the common good and a healthy society, then what really is next for our country, culture and civilization?

Can we remain a land of liberty if our God-given religious freedoms and speech rights are so categori­cally and routinely usurped and denied?

The good news is that hope is real, and that in the fullness of time, Providence provides a way forward for those seeking civilizational renewal and revival. The largest historical question is whether we will have the moral courage to stand against the civilizational slide we are currently experiencing

The time to enlighten young hearts and minds is now upon us. ■

Timothy S. Goeglein is Focus on the Family’s senior advisor to the president and vice president of external relations.

 

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