I added this intro after reading Troy Smith’s column last week. I appreciate his kind words. I will echo his sentiment about disagreeing but still being respectful. I have often debated with Troy in the past and read his column every week. He truly is my friend. If I oppose his positions at times, I never doubt his heart.
In my school days, I considered myself a rebel and a radical. I aspired to act like a flower child of the late 1960’s. I studied the Civil Rights and anti-war protests, demonstrations, and marches of the era. I admired the American Civil Liberties Union for its defense of the First Amendment prohibition against abridging free speech or denying the ability of people to peaceably assemble. The ACLU defended the groups I believed were beyond reproach. Then in the late 1970’s, this group that I admired so much defended Neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. I couldn’t understand how they could defend groups that I knew were pure evil. I didn’t realize that unless we defend speech for everyone, then we don’t really have free speech for anyone. If people I find reprehensible can be denied the ability to peacefully assemble, then someday someone may decide I am reprehensible. I now understand and respect those actions of the ACLU. I also now understand that while I appreciate the ACLU, the organization is far from the moral beacon I had originally believed it to be.
Today we hear cries about “misinformation” and “fake news.” We hear calls for individuals and groups to be silenced. People have been banned from social media. They have been attacked professionally and financially for saying or writing things that others find objectionable. They have been slapped with labels like racist, homophobic, or worse. The former president was banned from Twitter. The New York Post was sent into cyber limbo for posting a truthful article about Hunter Biden’s laptop. During the height of the COVID pandemic, it was not only an offense to speak or write in opposition to the official government position, but it was also just as offensive to even question that position. Very often today we are learning that those silenced positions were correct, or those questions were valid concerns. I have been called a science denier or conspiracy theorist by individuals who use those labels as their entire argument.
We don’t win by silencing the opposition. We win by debating the opposition with a reasoned argument presented in public spaces witnessed by everyone. Therefore, candidates should have public debates, and legislation should be available to the public and the legislators before it is voted on. This is the reason the ACLU defended the Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan. It is why they also defended the Tea Party and why I opposed Donald Trump’s ban from Twitter, even though I hated many of his tweets. Neither freedom nor society flourish when speech is suppressed, and both fade when people are denied the right to peaceably assemble.
Proponents of suppressing speech claim that they don’t want people to be misled. What they are really saying is that they don’t want people to decide for themselves what is “misinformation” or “fake news.” Maybe they believe that people won’t have the intelligence to reach their own conclusions or that people will be too lazy to study the issues before forming an opinion. Either way, they do not trust that people will support a preferred position when offered an alternative. They don’t want people to reach an opinion they don’t approve of. Hopefully, I won’t ever provide you with “misinformation” or “fake news.” I will do my best. I will also trust you to recognize and expose it if I do. I will trust you to think for yourself.
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