Attacks on Free Speech

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Attacks on free speech are becoming ever more common in our culture. People are losing their jobs, being suspended, or being forced by law to use their talents to convey messages they oppose.

David Johnson, a packaging engineer working for a Hasbro contractor met with Project Veritas and revealed what he claims are Hasbro’s plans to teach anti-racism to children with the toys and games they develop. He also revealed mandated anti-racist training and materials for employees and contractors, including material that claims that white children have inherent biases at as young an age as three months. Johnson, who is Black, says Hasbro is “attempting to covertly push CRT, Critical Race Theory, through branding and messaging through their products. I decided to come Project Veritas because I oppose the indoctrination of children they wanted to push.” As a result of his disclosure, Johnson was suspended by his employer. Hasbro maintains that the training was always optional.

Dr. Tara Gustilo, a biracial, Harvard educated physician and now former head of the OB-GYN department at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis, claims that she was demoted from that position because of social media posts she made that were critical of Black Lives Matter and Critical Race Theory. Dr. Gustilo claims that she has one of the highest patient satisfaction rates among her peers, but that the HR department came up with bogus charges against her, such as showing up late for meetings and poor communication skills, to strip her of her position as head of the department. However, an HR manager eventually fessed up and told her she had been demoted because of her political beliefs. “Some of my colleagues saw my posts and decided that I was no longer fit to be chair of the department,” Gustilo says. She has filed an EEOC discrimination charge against Hennepin Healthcare.

While the above cases of attacks on free speech are bad enough, an even more troubling development took place when the Tenth Circuit ruled 2-1 that Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act requires that a graphic and website design company create websites that celebrate same-sex marriages if it is going to create websites that celebrate opposite-sex marriages. The case was 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, and Judge Mary Beck Briscoe, in her majority opinion, argued that creating a website for same-sex marriages was, indeed, a matter of speech, and of speech that celebrated same-sex marriages, speech with which the owners of the website design company would not ordinarily agree. Yet, Colorado may “permissibly compel” the website company to create such websites, forcing them to communicate a message with which they disagree, because – and get this! – there is no other website design company that can do the job as well as this company can. Now, somehow the judge made that assessment even though the website company is yet to have created even a single marriage website! This is so troubling. It seems obvious that Judge Briscoe is simply creating out of the thinnest air a bizarre justification to force the website design company to engage in speech with which they disagree because she agrees with the message that she demands the website design company celebrate. Briscoe is basically arguing that, if the state feels it must, then the state is empowered to compel artists to create art that is contrary to their most cherished personal beliefs. Taken to its obvious logical conclusion, a Jewish artist might be required to create neo-Nazi propaganda, a Muslim composer might be compelled to compose a Catholic Mass, a gay choreographer could be compelled to choreograph a dance celebrating homophobia. Now, no one thinks any of those things is going to happen (at least anytime soon), because the state is generally friendly to those groups that might be offended by creating such things. But some states, and Colorado is one of them, are generally unfriendly to artists or businesses that do not embrace the notion of same-sex marriage. You can believe whatever you want, the state says, but you still must act according to our priorities. The idea that the state can compel an artist to create something, or compel anyone to engage in speech they find repugnant, is an attack on the most basic principles of free speech. The whole point of the First Amendment protection of speech is that the state cannot compel speech. Hopefully, this decision will be appealed and a more sensible conclusion reached.

These attacks on free speech or even more troubling when one considers that Americans aren’t convinced that free speech is such a great idea. According to a 2019 poll conducted by the Campaign for Free Speech, 51% of Americans think the First Amendment is outdated and needs to be re-written, 48% think “hate speech” should be illegal (and half of those who think so would put offenders in jail), and 80% cannot say what freedoms the First Amendment protects. A 2020 survey of college students by The Heterodox Academy showed that 62% of college students claimed that “the climate on their campus prevents students from saying things they believe.” The most difficult topics to speak on, the students reported, were politics, religion, sexual orientation, race, and gender.

Our current culture doesn’t much encourage respectful disagreement. One of the reasons for this, I think, is our lost faith in divine revelation. Moderns have little confidence or interest in the revelation of God that comes from an inspired text or an infallible Church. Instead, they rely on themselves and their own insights to ascertain the truth about God or, more precisely, their truth about God. This carries over to other areas, and we often hear people today talk, not about the truth, but my truth. When a person equates his or her insights or opinions with the truth, then when another disagrees or challenges those insights or opinions, it’s interpreted as an insult to their very person, as an insult, not to their insight or opinion, but to their self. So, disagreements or challenges to another’s thinking is taken personally, as an attack on them. This is not an atmosphere in which respectful disagreement is nurtured. Americans who think the First Amendment is outdated, or who want to outlaw “hate speech,” or who think that free speech doesn’t include speech that offends, are motivated by this idea that offensive speech, or even speech that reflects a differing opinion, can constitute a violent assault on them. College students who fear saying what they believe likely do so because they’ve encountered people who regard any disagreement with or challenge to their insights or opinions as personal attacks, and thus make any conversation about controversial topics uncomfortable or even consequential.

I’ve no idea how to turn this around. We have one or two generations of people who have grown up thinking their truth merits the respect of the truth, and are willing to make life very difficult for those who think differently. All I can say to this is that those who value freedom must be willing to speak out, to counter speech with more speech, and never to fear speaking one’s mind because of the concern that others will do all they can to take you down. It is much more honorable, and impactful for eternal life, to speak the truth than to stay silent in the face of threats.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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