Blog Post

Free Speech is Not (Quite) Dead!

stk18682svnCommentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

Even though headlines are screaming, “Free speech for me, but not for thee,” not all of today’s youth have bought into the prevailing call-everyone-who-disagrees-with-me-a-hater movement in America – such as those that are participating in today’s Day of Dialogue.

In an op-ed published on Fox News this morning, Candi Cushman is reporting on an initiative of the pro-family Christian organization, Focus on the Family, which is gathering tens of thousands of students in schools across America today to celebrate free speech.

“In short, it’s a free-speech initiative that creates a safe place for public school students to exercise their religious freedoms and express their deeply held Christian beliefs in a loving and respectful manner,” the website reports.

An estimated 45,000 teens and college students are expected to participate today in a variety of student-led events that will enable participants to engage in a free exchange of ideas on some of the most sensitive, hot-button cultural issues of our day—including sexuality and marriage.

“Yes, it’s true, these Christian students often see their viewpoints silenced, or even openly ridiculed,” writes Cushman, who serves as education analyst for Focus on the Family.

But for the Christian students participating in the event today, “resorting to inflammatory, insulting language to fight censorship is not a viable option. As people of faith, they have a different perspective: They follow the model provided by Jesus in the Bible: He didn’t back away from speaking truth, but neither did he hold back from pouring out compassionate love on hurting and vulnerable people.”

Cushman lists the example of a young woman named Alicia who participated in a Day of Dialogue event where some of her high schools peers mocked her with a sign “Satan’s Not Dead.”

“Rather than hysterically demanding that adults censor the offending messages, she responded winsomely, using as it a conversation starter,” Cushman reports. “She explained to the local newspaper that it’s ‘true, Satan isn’t dead, just like God’s not dead, so you have to touch on that too.’ Undeterred, she hosted four Day of Dialogue discussions during free periods. And she is just one of 45,000.”

This event is in stark contrast to today’s news which is full of disturbing images of campus riots, screaming protestors, clouds of tear gas, and police in riot gear.

This week’s cancellation of yet another conservative speaker on the campus of UC Berkeley, ostensibly for safety reasons but was really just caving in to the “heckler’s veto,” is alarming the public just like last year’s deadly Black Lives Matter events.

It’s obvious that certain political forces in this country are aiming at shutting down opposing views. As Campus Reform’s Sterling Beard writes, the mantra of the liberal left on campus has become “free speech for me, but not for thee.”

“They never call it censorship, of course; the left never does something as objectionable as that. They merely no-platform the speaker. They exercise the heckler’s veto. Then they justify it by saying they’re opposing violence.”

But none of this caused as much concern for Cushman as the sight of the blank-faced stares of student protestors who responded with stony silence when asked to explain their perspective to reporters. 

“There was no passion for sharing their story, no academic thirst for debate, no intellectual curiosity to hear another viewpoint,” Cushman writes. “That’s because their goal wasn’t to start a conversation—it was to ‘shut it down,’ to put in their own shouted words. “

For Cushman, it was like “watching the ‘closing of the American mind’ in real time.”

But the students aren’t all to blame for this, she believes. “They are simply mirroring the actions they see modeled by adults.”

A case in point is what happened to Focus on the Family president Jim Daly who spoke today at the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast in Fort Lauderdale. The theme of the event is “Together,” but some sexual advocacy groups obviously didn’t get the memo. Instead, they did everything possible to divide people by demanding a boycott of the event because of Daly’s traditional views on marriage and sexuality.

“So now a Christian who holds to traditional, biblical beliefs is disqualified from a prayer breakfast? Good grief,” Cushman laments.

But there is definitely a glimmer of hope on the horizon and its coming from the thousands of students who are participating in Day of Dialogue events today.

“So while I agree it is a dark day for free-speech, I also see signs up of hope in the faces of students like these—who still have faith in the power of truth to compete in the marketplace of ideas, and most importantly, have the courage to call for more dialogue, not less.”

Let's keep these brave young people in our prayers today!

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