“But gentlemen, as long as I am an American Citizen, and as long as American blood runs in these veins, I shall hold myself at liberty to speak, to write, and to publish whatever I please on any subject.”
Elijah P. Lovejoy
Elijah Parish Lovejoy (1802 – 1837) was a Presbyterian minister, journalist and abolitionist. He ran a newspaper that championed the abolitionist cause, first in St. Louis, MO and then in Alton, IL, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. Lovejoy hosted the Illinois Antislavery Congress in his church in north Alton.
On November 7, 1837 a pro-slavery mob approached the warehouse where Lovejoy had hidden his new printing press. Shots were fired into the warehouse. Lovejoy and his men returned fire and when Lovejoy went out to overturn a ladder the mob had set up against the warehouse with the intent of burning the building down, Lovejoy was shot and killed. The mob destroyed the printing press, tearing it apart and throwing the pieces into the Mississippi.
Lovejoy was a tragic victim of the cancel culture of his day. The pro-slavery residents of Alton didn’t like his message, so they killed Lovejoy and destroyed his printing press, silencing him forever.
Free speech is under attack today in the United States and in the larger Western culture. People have lost their reputations, their jobs, their businesses, or their careers because they have dared to express their opinions on certain matters of the day, opinions that counter the approved message of our cultural elites. Some have suffered consequences for doing nothing wrong, but others who regard themselves as allies in the cause against racism either misinterpreted their actions, or determined their actions were inappropriate. Some have been sacrificed to save their company’s face. Some have even suffered consequences not for what they did, but for what others thought they did.
Cancel culture has become such a fierce element of our culture that it inspired an open letter entitled “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” published by Harper’s Magazine in July, 2020. The letter was signed by over 150 of the most storied liberal intellectuals, writers and academics our fair nation has produced over recent decades, including David Brooks, Noam Chomsky, Gloria Steinem, Cornel West, and Garry Wills. Though they cite Donald Trump as a “threat to democracy” and warn that cancel culture is being exploited by “right-wing demagogues,” they could not bring themselves to admit that the current attack on free speech and open debate is largely from the left. Instead, they bemoan “the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.” In any case, in the letter, the signatories promote the value of “robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters.” Even still, they are concerned that, “it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms. Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes. Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.”
Despite the august liberal credentials of the signatories of Harper’s open letter, they immediately came under criticism for their letter being just another example of white, cis-gender privilege. Ah, well. Nice try.
Recently, two examples of cancel culture came to my attention, one with a happy resolution. The first, the one with a happy resolution, is the case of “Catholic World Report,” an online Catholic news journal. CWR’s Twitter account was locked by Twitter on January 24 when they were informed that they had violated Twitter’s rules against “hateful conduct” with the following tweet:
“Biden plans to nominate Dr. Rachel Levine, a biological man identifying as a transgender woman who has served as Pennsylvania’s health secretary since 2017, to be HHS Assistant Secretary for Health. Levine is also a supporter of the contraceptive mandate.”
Apparently, CWR identifying Dr. Levine as “a biological man identifying as a transgender woman” violated Twitter’s rule against “hateful conduct” because, in Twitter’s bizarre world, stating the simple fact that Dr. Levine is a biological man identifying as a transgender woman somehow promotes violence against, threatens or harasses Dr. Levine. When CWR asked Twitter how their tweet represented “hateful conduct,” Twitter did not answer, but only explained that they had reviewed their decision and stood by it. The only way CWR could resolve the matter was to admit that their tweet constituted hateful, violent, threatening or harassing language and remove it.
The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights became aware of CWR’s Twitter account having been locked and the reason why and recommended that it’s followers contact the point person at Twitter. Three hours later, Twitter unlocked CWR’s account. Thus, the happy resolution.
The other case is that of Mike Lindell, founder and CEO of My Pillow. Lindell is well known because of his ubiquitous My Pillow ads, in which he is prominently featured. He’s also well known for his conservative politics and Christian faith, even appearing in a cameo in the pro-life film “Unplanned.” Lindell was recently permanently banned from Twitter because of his support for Trump’s claim that the 2020 presidential election was impacted by widespread fraud and for promoting that claim. Also, a number of stores have stopped carrying My Pillow products in order to disassociate themselves from Lindell (though this doesn’t seem to have gone well for at least one of those brands).
Claims of widespread fraud have been rejected by the courts and by the states, each of which certified its electoral college votes. But, it doesn’t really matter what you think of Lindell’s politics or his claims about the presidential election. Our nation was founded on free speech and open debate. If people are going to lose their right to speak out on public forums because those who regulate those forums don’t like the message, then we’re all at risk of being silenced. Yes, there is no place for calls for violence, threats or harassment on such forums (which makes me wonder why Facebook and Twitter didn’t shut down those who were using those forums to organize violence at the Capitol Building for January 6!). But, it’s ridiculous to judge the opinion that there was widespread fraud in the election as a call to violence. For pete’s sake, Hilary Clinton and her Democrat allies accused Trump of stealing the 2016 election, and Clinton and the Democrats in Congress promoted for three years the false claim that Russia and the Trump campaign colluded to throw the 2016 election, and there was a formal investigation carried out to refute it. Ultimately, evidence came out that the Clinton campaign was behind the whole thing. Yet, neither Clinton nor any of the Dems who promoted this ruse has been silenced by Twitter. So, it’s only dangerous when Republicans question the results of elections and accuse the other side of fraud?
I hope to expose examples of cancel culture on this blog with regular “Elijah Lovejoy Alerts” whenever I learn of someone being canceled, or of others attempting to cancel someone. If you become aware of such a case, please let me know and I’ll help spread the word. Regardless of who is doing the canceling or who is being canceled, the only way to resist efforts to destroy our foundation of free speech is to speak out against those who would silence voices with which they disagree.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.