Spotlight – Are College Campuses Killing Free Speech?

Are College Campuses Killing Free Speech

Are College Campuses Killing Free Speech

College and university campuses, more so than any other of our institutions, are supposed to value the free and open exchange of ideas. In fact, their sole purpose is to pursue and disseminate knowledge. After all, how can students fully understand a subject if they never encounter multiple perspectives on the issue?

Indeed, far from sheltering young people from challenging or disturbing concepts, the goal of higher education is to expose them to differing opinions and ideas. That way, they may learn to wrestle with opposing views and ultimately make an informed decision on any issue. This process leads not only to personal and intellectual growth, but also to societal growth, as the political health of our nation depends on an informed citizenry.

George Washington, reflecting on the importance of higher education in a democracy, told Congress that “There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage than the promotion of Science and Literature.” He believed that acquiring knowledge was the “surest basis of public happiness,” and wrote to fellow founder John Adams, suggesting that a “national University in this country is a thing to be desired.”

However, over the last few decades, American institutions of higher learning have failed to live up to the trust our founders placed in them. Most egregiously, they have increasingly infringed upon the 1st Amendment, suppressing the speech of students and faculty alike and stifling the exchange of information and ideas. Read on to learn about the foundations of this movement and what we can do to stop it.

The history of the anti-free speech movement

Starting in the 1980s, college and university faculty and administrators began transforming campuses to make them more “politically correct.” This involved replacing the historical cannon with more multicultural authors and establishing speech codes to protect women and minorities from “hate speech.”

Around the same time, the self-esteem movement, which directed parents and educators to shower children with lavish, unconditional praise, became the rage in K-8 classrooms. This well-intentioned, but often misapplied, educational philosophy led adults to protect students’ fragile self-esteem by sheltering them from all forms of criticism or adverse consequences. Consequently, many young people began to expect educational institutions to safeguard their feelings.

Not being able to naturally develop an authentic sense of self-esteem, young people sought out external sources of validation. One popular way for students to affirm their identities was to become affiliated with a larger group, which resulted in the growth of identity politics across college campuses nationwide. As a result, being part of a victim class became something to aspire to, a way of gaining the moral high ground in any argument.

Sociologists Jason Manning and Bradley Campbell define this “victimhood culture” as follows:

“A culture of victimhood is one characterized by concern with status and sensitivity to slight combined with a heavy reliance on third parties. People are intolerant of insults, even if unintentional, and react by bringing them to the attention of authorities or to the public at large. Domination is the main form of deviance, and victimization a way of attracting sympathy, so rather than emphasize either their strength or inner worth, the aggrieved emphasize their oppression and social marginalization.”

Combined, these societal changes have led to a climate of fear and intimidation on college and university campuses, with students and faculty hesitant to voice their opinions for fear of being denounced as “hateful.” The news in the past few years is full of stories about individuals being shouted down, having their invitations to speak rescinded, and even being physically assaulted for having a differing opinion about an emotionally charged topic.

The free-speech climate on campuses today

The free-speech climate on campuses today

The free-speech climate on campuses today

Incidents like these – as well as the demand for “trigger warnings,” the war against “micro-aggressions,” and so on – reveal how far down the Orwellian road the university system has traveled. People are now demanding conformity as a way to foster diversity and, ironically, excluding those who may have a different idea of inclusivity. In attempting to make campuses a “safe space,” many students, teachers, and administrators are actually making campuses dangerous for people whose viewpoints differ from the campus’ majority opinion.

The 1st Amendment is no longer considered sacrosanct on our colleges and universities. According to a 2016 Gallup poll, fully two-thirds of college-aged respondents thought that colleges should be able to restrict racial slurs and language designed to offend certain groups.

Roughly the same percentage believe that colleges have the right to control whether students can wear politically insensitive costumes. Thus, it is not surprising that all across America, campuses are instituting strict speech codes, designating certain areas as “free-speech zones,” and defunding student-run periodicals that publish materials deemed to be in any way “offensive.”

Some academics have even explicitly decried the notion of free speech. After the 2012 Benghazi attack, university professors Anthea Butler and Eric Posner stated that Americans place too high a value on free speech. Posner added that our nation’s resistance to curbing free speech in deference to foreign policy interests was a “bizarre principle.” In The Los Angeles Times, Northwestern University professor Laura Beth Nielsen argued that hate speech should be restricted because “Racist hate speech has been linked to cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and requires complex coping strategies.”

In 2015, a Yale lecturer resigned after being publicly castigated for questioning whether it was healthy for students to give up their free-speech rights in order to protect others’ feelings. Her “crime” involved writing an e-mail in response to the university’s strongly-worded “suggestion” that students should avoid culturally insensitive Halloween costumes. She wrote: “I wonder, and I am not trying to be provocative: Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious, a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?”

Her words resonate well beyond her specific situation. They not only speak to the suppression of free speech on college campuses, but they also give rise to alarming questions about modern society and why our students are eagerly adopting these authoritarian attitudes.

The future of free speech on campus

The good news is that people are starting to notice how far anti-free-speech activists have gone in their efforts to suppress speech with which they disagree. After a number of violent student demonstrations and protests in 2016, the University of Chicago’s dean of students sent incoming students a letter that spelled out the school’s dedication to academic freedom and warned them not to expect “safe spaces,” trigger warnings, or censorship.

Students are also finding ways to regain their right to free expression. Earlier this year, several dozen young people from nearly 20 colleges met at the University of Chicago to initiate a nation-wide campus free-speech movement. With a goal of protecting all forms of speech – even potentially offensive speech – the students released a proclamation that they hope other students will sign and live by.

Additionally, organizations like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) have been formed to protect the rights of students. The nonpartisan group has filed numerous law suits on behalf of students whose rights have been infringed since its inception in 1999. With the help of this group and others like it, we can turn back the tide of illiberalism and help institutions of higher education develop truly informed citizens, who are capable of intelligent governance.


Speakers Focus on the Importance of Our Founding Documents

The Donald Koch Foundation hosted a presentation by Howard Bay and Clark Beim-Esche at the Principia School in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4, 2017. During the talk, the speakers discussed the history of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights and why these documents remain important today.

The speakers both have strong ties to the Principia School, as well as a thorough knowledge of American history. A retired teacher of history and economics at the school, Mr. Bay is also a former Principia student. Mr. Beim-Eshce worked in the English and History departments at the Principia Upper School for more than 30 years. A winner of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum Creative Teaching Award, Mr. Beim-Esche is also an author. His 2015 book, Calling on the Presidents: Tales Their Houses Tell, is available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Mr. Bay spoke first, describing the Declaration of Independence as America’s birth certificate. He went on to say that “no American document has had a greater global impact” than the Declaration of Independence. In fact, over half of today’s United Nations’ member countries have taken inspiration from our founding documents to create their own declarations of independence. All but two of these documents lack the passage from our document’s preamble, which states that “all men are created equal” and have “certain unalienable rights, including ”life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Our Declaration of Independence was a radical document, according to Mr. Bay, because it marked the first time that a government was formed on the basis of a set of “truths.” It also asserted that a government’s power comes from the people and not the other way around. This meant that Americans were now “citizens” and not “subjects.”

Toward the end of his presentation, Mr. Bay described the harrowing journey that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution took during the Revolutionary War and throughout the decades before ending up encased in glass at the National Archives. The fact that we could have easily lost these valuable documents is frightening. According to President Truman, “Liberty … can be lost, and it will be, if the time ever comes when these documents are regarded not as the supreme expression of our profound belief, but merely as curiosities in glass cases.” Mr. Bay concluded his portion of the talk by warning that in order to preserve the principles of liberty, each new generation of Americans must not only understand the truths expressed in our founding documents, but they must also cherish them.

Mr. Beim-Esche begins his portion of the presentation by comparing the Bill of Rights to the Ten Commandments. According to Mr. Beim-Esche, both documents are basically lists of “thou shalt nots.”

Subsequently, Mr. Beim-Esche detailed the timeline of the drafting of the Constitution, from the Declaration of Independence and the release of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense in 1776 to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. He goes on to describe the addition of the Bill of Rights in 1791.

The 10 amendments contained in this document list 24 limitations on government. Among these are restrictions on laws that diminish the freedom of speech, peaceable assembly, religion, press, and petition. The government also cannot force citizens to house soldiers in their homes without their consent or infringe upon people’s right to have and bear arms.

Additionally, the Bill of Rights prevents the government from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures and requires probable cause before issuing a warrant. The Bill of Rights also guarantees citizens freedom from self-incrimination, double trial for the same crime, arrest without indictment, and loss of property without just compensation. When a citizen is arrested, the government must deliver a just and timely trial, an impartial jury, notice of all charges, and legal representation. The accused also has the right to confront any witnesses. In a civil case over a certain dollar amount, citizens are entitled to a jury trial. Moreover, the government cannot impose excessive bail or fines, or any cruel and unusual punishment.

To further secure against government overreach, the 9th Amendment of the Bill of Rights denies the government any powers that the Constitution does not specifically mention. The 10th Amendment takes this one step further by stating that all rights not delegated to the federal government in the Constitution are reserved to the states and the people.

At the end of his presentation, Mr. Beim-Esche pointed to the bottom of a copy of the Bill of Rights that Donald Koch would later hand out to junior students in the audience. He said, “This copy of the American Bill of Rights is a gift to the students of Principia by the Donald L. Koch Foundation as a timeless reminder that the freedom entrusted to their care is a challenge to their generation—a test of them as individuals to preserve and protect or ignobly to lose.”

Distinguished Daycrofter Award Recognizes Community Contributions

The Daycroft School Foundation continues the mission of the Daycroft School, a Christian Scientist nursery school founded by Sara Pyle Smart in 1928 in Darien, Connecticut. Over the years, the school grew, adding different grade levels until it offered a preschool through high school education. During this period, it also moved locations, first to Stamford and then to Greenwich, Connecticut. Although the school closed its doors in 1991, the Daycroft School Foundation continues to focus on its goal to “provide an educational environment which embraces the teachings of Christian Science, giving opportunity for individual unfoldment and community responsibility.” To accomplish this, the foundation focuses on four core areas: online learning, peer support, grants, and programs for Christian Scientist Educators.

In 2000, the Daycroft School Foundation established its Distinguished Daycrofter Award to recognize former students, faculty, and staff who have contributed to their communities in a way that exemplifies the Daycroft School’s motto of “Perceive Then Demonstrate.” Read on to learn more about what it takes to earn this prestigious recognition.

What are the criteria for receiving the Distinguished Daycrofter Award?

The Daycroft School Foundation instituted this award to recognize members of the Daycroft family who have positively affected other people’s lives. To earn this award, an individual must demonstrate his or her commitment to humanity, as well as an unwavering commitment to achievement by doing the following:

– Making some form of meaningful contribution to society

– Embodying the character traits that Daycroft promoted

– Displaying an appreciation for the school and the principles of Christian Science

Who has won the Distinguished Daycrofter Award?

Since it first instituted the award, the Daycrofter School Foundation has presented it only three times. The following individuals have earned this distinction:

Donald L. Koch—The foundation presented the award to Mr. Koch in 2007 for his charitable work in educating young people. A Daycroft student from elementary school through his junior year of high school, he has stated that he feels indebted to the school for teaching him about hard work and perseverance, as well as for showing him “how to think.”

Utilizing the tools he gained at Daycroft, Mr. Koch created the Donald L. Koch Foundation to help students become better citizens. To this end, it sponsors lectures on America’s founding documents and on how to reach one’s true potential. Some guest lecturers have included Dr. Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, and David McCullough. The foundation also hands out copies of the Constitution to students at these events.

In addition to the efforts of his foundation, Mr. Koch gives back to his others by volunteering with the Boy Scouts of America, teaching Sunday School, and paying school tuition for young people in need.

Lynn A. London—A former Daycroft faculty member and assistant head, London received the award in 2000. As Daycroft President Trude Harper presented the award to London, he praised her ability to bring “light and warmth” to the school, as well as the broader community.

Over the course of nearly 30 years at Daycroft, Lynn London earned a reputation as being someone with whom students could share their troubles without fear of being judged. After providing students with a sympathetic ear, she would encourage them to do the “right” thing and offer to help, whether they required financial, emotional, or scholastic assistance. She was also a steadfast and patient presence in the lives of everyone she worked with.

Still giving to others today, she immediately steps in to help out as soon as she hears about someone in need. Among the many recipients of her caring heart are older people, her church, and the Girl Scouts of the USA.

Janet and Cobbey Crisler—Known as “two of Daycroft’s dearest friends,” this couple received the Distinguished Daycrofter Award in 2007. Cobbey Crisler, a 1950 graduate of Daycroft, returned to serve as the institution’s president from 1966 to 1976. During Mr. Crisler’s tenure at what he often referred to as “our God-blessed free school,” his wife Janet taught at the Daycroft nursery school program.

Passionate about the Bible, Mr. Crisler began to share his passion for Scripture with others, giving talks throughout the country and guiding others on expeditions to the Holy Land. After his departure from Daycroft, Mr. Crisler focused exclusively on his Bible investigations and lectures. He also co-authored two books: Fishers of Men: The Way of the Apostles and Come See The Place: The Holy Land Jesus Knew. Janet Crisler was a full partner in her husband’s work and even co-authored her own book: Loaves and Fishers: Foods of Bible Times. She also serves the American Schools of Oriental Research as an associate board trustee.

After Cobbey Crisler’s death in 1988, Janet Crisler became an active fundraiser for various initiatives. She also established a biblical research institute to carry on the work her husband started.

The Debate over How to Interpret the Constitution

The Constitution is the basis for America’s system of government and laws, but many Americans disagree about what role this founding document plays in our lives today. Is the Constitution a sacred document that should be interpreted according to the original intentions of its creators? Is it a “living” document that should grow and change to reflect modern sensibilities? Or, is it something else?

Read on to learn more about these different perspectives.

What Is a Living Constitution?

In short, a living Constitution is one that evolves according to the new circumstances of the nation. Interpreting the Constitution as a living document comes with the assumption that the words have meaning beyond the relevant text, meaning that the situation of contemporary society needs to be taken into account when looking at a particular phrase.

Why Do People Think We Need a Living Constitution?

The Constitution has remained the cornerstone of our nation’s liberty for more than 220 years. While it can be amended, the process is necessarily difficult. In fact, the most important amendments were made 150 years ago after the Civil War. Amendments since that time have dealt mostly with very minor matters that do not impact the daily lives of American citizens. In those 150 years, the country, not to mention the world, has changed dramatically. The population of the United States has increased many times over, and the nation’s technology, economy, and social mores are completely different. People who support the idea of a living Constitution argue that amendments alone cannot keep up with this rate of change.

Proponents of a living Constitution believe that change is necessary, even for the Constitution, as demonstrated by the amendments that have already been made. People who believe in a living Constitution and those who do not both accept this fact. However, supporters of a living Constitution argue that the document was written such that the meaning of the language could change without requiring a formal amendment.

What Do Originalists Believe?

Originalists believe that the Constitutional provisions meant, and continue to mean, exactly what they did to the people who wrote and adopted them. In other words, they argue that the idea of a living Constitution is a moot point because the document does not need to change or adapt except through formal amendment.

The Constitution is the foundation of the nation, and a changing foundation leads to instability. Many originalist constitutional scholars scoff at the idea of a “living Constitution.” After all, the Constitution is the embodiment of our most sacred beliefs and principles. Public opinion changes, but these foundational concepts do not. If they did, what is the point of a Constitution?

Why Do Originalists Prioritize the Founders’ Original Intentions?

The Founding Fathers

The Founding Fathers – Source: DonkeyHotey

Originalists argue that it is vital to interpret the words of the Constitution according to the intentions of the Founding Fathers because doing so removes the personal judgments of individuals or judges from the equation and minimizes the chances of corruption. Many originalists turn to quotes from the Founding Fathers to explain this point of view. While George Washington believed that “the basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government,” he also thought that the Constitution as it exists at the time is “sacredly obligatory upon all.” Similarly, Thomas Jefferson said, “Instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”

Originalists believe that a living Constitution is equivalent to a manipulable Constitution. If the document changes, then someone is doing the changing and inserting his or her own ideas into it. Generally, the “someone” is a group of judges charged with interpreting the document. To many, a fluid Constitution is not a Constitution at all and should not be taken as law any more than the ideas of judges in power should be considered law.

Are There Other Opinions on the Nature of the Constitution?

People in support of and against the idea of a living Constitution both seek to protect the Constitution as the ultimate law and the source of our liberty. At the same time, these are not the only viewpoints that exist about the Constitution. Some scholars have taken a different position altogether.

This position is grounded in the belief that the Constitutional law of the United States resembles a type of law that predates the actual Constitution. This older type of law is called common law, and its roots can be traced back thousands of year informally, and hundreds of years formally. Common law is a system built on precedents and traditions that become solidified over time. While the law can adapt and change, these shifts must stay rooted to the past and thus evolution becomes checked. Supporters of the common law theory believe that the American Constitutional system is a common law system defined by the Constitution but also sensitive to precedent.

As a source of common law, the Constitution, some would argue, gives room for growth, but it also lays out the fundamental principles that are protected from the vicissitudes of public opinion. While amendment is possible, it is not something that can simply be directed according to the opinions of one judge or even a group of judges.