Back in the early 1960s, students and faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill defied a law passed by the General Assembly that prohibited speakers on university campuses who espoused communist or anti-American views. The student body president invited banned speakers to the university and set up a court challenge to the law. The courts found the Speaker Ban Law violated the First Amendment and the university became known as a leading protector of free speech.
For decades, liberals cited the story as an example of standing up for unpopular views. Today, though, we’re seeing young people on the left shut down free speech on college campuses. Former Breitbart writer and provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was chased from the University of California-Berkley campus by protestors lighting fires and throwing rocks. A month later, students a liberal Middlebury College in Vermont prevented conservative political scientist Charles Murray from speaking. Shutting down speakers is unacceptable in a free society.
At a time when the institutions that support and are supported by liberal democracies are under attack, people of all political persuasions need to stand up for free speech. The best way to defeat a Milo Yiannopoulos is to expose him and counter his arguments, not shout him down with mob intimidation. Universities, in particular, should welcome diverse ideas so students can learn the critical thinking skills necessary to win important arguments.
In this environment, Republican legislators supported by Lt. Governor Dan Forest have introduced legislation to protect freedom of speech on campus. According to an editorial in the Wilson Times, “The legislation would override campus speech codes, guarantee academic freedom, ensure due process in disciplinary cases involving expressive conduct, require free-speech education during freshman orientation and establish a Committee on Free Expression to meet regularly and report to the UNC Board of Governors.”
It seems like a good idea, as long as it applies to ideas and concepts that Forest and his fellow conservatives don’t like, too. For instance, students might be confronted with speech that some people consider pornographic as well as speech that others might consider racist. Free speech is not always pleasant but lack of it is always oppressive. Let’s protect people’s right to express it whether we agree with it or not.