Straight Talk

Freedom is not freedom without freedom of speech

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Letter to the Editor

I am not a Democrat or Republican. That is not because I can’t tell the difference between them, but because I can. I am not writing this to tell you what you think or should think. I am writing to tell you what I think. You may not be interested and that is your right. If that is your perspective though, feel free to stop reading at any time. However, if you are interested, what follows is why I think what I think.

I believe freedom of speech is critical for a free society. Put simply, freedom is not freedom without freedom of speech. It is obvious to me that this does not extend to yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. However, I am talking about criticism of the government or opinions one doesn’t agree with. The best way to overcome or do away with a bad idea is not to ban its expression but to shape it on the anvil of honest discourse, and that cannot be done unless it is heard. Americans have reduced the influence or eliminated many bad ideas in the past, such as slavery. I know, I know, human trafficking remains a problem that needs to be dealt with; but, I am under the impression that it’s not practiced in our area. If you know differently, please inform the police.

As I was growing up, one way to spur interest in a book or a movie was to ban it. It seems that many people were drawn to the forbidden. From my perspective, with the spread of the cancel culture, this may no longer be true. I think it is a mistake to ban people’s voices just because they said something that offends us or with which we do not agree. 

John Stuart Mill said, “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

I have heard and read stories about invited speakers on college campuses being attacked, opposed, and not allowed to speak. If an invited speaker is shouted over and prevented from expressing their point of view, no matter how offensive, how can attendees assess the speaker’s opinion? I think it was John McWhorter, paraphrasing his mother, who said, “If you tell people not to say something, they’re still thinking it, and wouldn’t you rather know what they’re thinking?” 

I would ask, how can you support or oppose an idea that is not expressed?

In many cases, a speaker’s reputation (good or bad) precedes them. If we have people inviting people to speak that are unfamiliar with the speaker’s reputation and/or ideas, that is an entirely different problem, but it doesn’t strike me that that is the case.

Some of you may not agree with my views on free speech and believe the government should ban the expression of ideas you find offensive. If that is the case, you should write the newspaper, not ban me. From my point of view, it is a wonderful thing that we can share ideas in the local paper rather than in some secret room or attic.

David Hubbs, Franklin