For more than a decade we have observed and felt a growing intolerance of free speech across the United States.
The tone of intolerance today is angrier and more threatening than ever before.
There are many people across the American political spectrum that consider freedom of speech to be our country’s most important asset and it often too frequently becomes the norm, yet still shocks us when we find individuals and groups unwilling to allow persons or other groups to voice their opinions and thoughts.
There is a movement in American society that wants to brainwash everyone to take a path that allows no one to say anything that someone else finds offensive.
This pathway has become a normal response on our college campuses and across the political scene. Its visibility has increased with those on the left, as well as those who stand to the far right.
The demand is to not say anything that another person finds offensive, whether it’s about religion, government, law or even morals.
One writer once wrote that, “Ironically, some of the most intolerant, offensive people you can find are ones who most forcefully insist that we need to create a society in which no one is intolerant or offensive.”
Not only does that strike at our Constitution’s Freedom of Speech clause but it also strikes at the entire Constitution, including the other rights guaranteed to American citizens.
Many attribute this move toward intolerance as a result of President Donald Trump’s election to office in the last presidential election. The truth of the matter is it began years ago before Trump was ever mentioned as a candidate.
We first began paying attention from news reports that covered incidents on college and university campuses as students, professors and outside demonstrators began verbally attacking and disrupting various speakers invited to campuses by college student organizations, as well as the higher learning institutions themselves.
In many cases, the verbal attacks and some assaults were the results of opposition to the speech content of the scheduled speakers. Other targeted the speakers themselves.
Social media has become an important tool of those who promote intolerance and the rejection of speakers who are not in alignment with the demonstrators and activists.
Most of the demonstrations and verbal attacks have been directed at conservative speakers and programs but not all. Several left-wing speakers have found themselves disinvited or interrupted as well.
There seems to be little doubt that the negative actions have worsened since President Trump took office.
Last year a Native American activist challenged a 15-year old high school student from Kentucky during a March for Life rally in Washington, D.C. The media was present and ran with a story promoting the student as being the instigator.
Major networks and print media, along with various social media, immediately ran with a false story that resulted in character assassination for the 15- year-old and his family, who also received physical threats of violence.
Fortunately, the family’s attorney has put together several lawsuits and even received some retractions after the stories were determined to be fake news.
Similar incidents continue.
A 34-year old man was arrested in New Hampshire recently after he attacked a 15-year old Trump supporter who was wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap. In Jacksonville, Fla. last week, a man deliberately drove his van into a Republican voter registration tent, injuring six people.
Last year the owner of the Red Hen Restaurant in Lexington, Va. kicked out White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her family when they stopped there to eat.
This week, in one of the latest acts of violence against conservatives, two protestors at the University of California at Santa Cruz smashed a College Republican information table, tore up signs, spit on an American flag and threw it onto the ground.
It’s going to get worse.
The current intolerant attitude today flows against a premise established more than 400 years ago by Voltaire, a Frenchman and one of the leading writers of the Enlightenment period.
Voltaire believed in reason and felt that social progress was achievable through reason. He wrote that no authority, political or religious, should be immune to challenge but that the challenge should be by reason. Voltaire emphasized tolerance in our daily lives.
Izzy Kalman wrote several years ago, “The truly ironic thing is that the most essential element of a tolerant society has been with us for the past two centuries, as it is the central element of democracy, but we are slowly killing it. That element is in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and is called Freedom of Speech.
“We need to be allowed to say what we want, as long as our words don’t cause tangible harm to people’s bodies or property, or society will stagnate and we will be prisoners in our own skulls.”
He went on to say that “Without Freedom of Speech, the government can become as despotic as it wishes, killing off any protestors without impunity…people believe they are entitled to kill others who say things they find offensive. Without Freedom of Speech, we would literally be living in the Dark Ages.”
It should bother all of us that we may be moving back toward the Dark Ages.