There is a very dangerous trend in the United States that unfortunately seems to be spreading — a trend toward denying those with whom one disagrees the right to speak.
It has popped up in news stories from here and there and from time to time in the last few years. I was reminded of it again a few days ago, when while walking through a neighborhood shopping district, I began to notice posters advertising a public lecture.
The problem however, was that the posters were not just informing the public of the lecture; instead, they were encouraging people to appear at the lecture and “shut it down,” so that the lecturer would not be able to give his presentation.
This an extremely dangerous and virulent form of censorship. Without freedom of speech — the open marketplace of ideas — a free society cannot long exist. It is only natural to oppose views that we may consider wrong or even abhorrent, but we must be very cautious and sensible in how we oppose them. Preventing the public expression of those views by “shutting down” lectures, or by intimidating speakers, or by somehow getting speakers banned (yes, this has shockingly even happened on college campuses lately) only leads to the loss of freedom of speech for everyone, because no matter what ideas a person may have, one will find others who disagree with them.
The right way to deal with ideas one abhors is to use your own freedom of speech to oppose them — not with violence or intimidation or banning, but with facts and evidence and rational persuasion — and of course the vote.
The right to freely and publicly express one’s ideas is a hard-won privilege born out of centuries of violent religious and political persecution and bloodshed. No sensible person would want to turn the clock back to the equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition or Nazi Germany, but those who advocate only permitting the public expression of ideas with which they agree, and encourage “shutting down” any public speech with which they strongly disagree, are unwittingly advocating and working toward the return of such a Dark Age. It is the height of foolishness and irresponsibility, and unworthy of a democratic society.
Deny one person free speech today, and you endanger everyone’s right to free speech — your own included — tomorrow.