Free speech is important, particularly when it’s political speech. But let’sbe clear, free speech doesn’t mean unchallenged speech. The CEO of Chic-fil-a is free to express his anti-LGBT agenda, but the rest of us are also free to condemn that position. Milo can spew his racist rhetoric, but we also have the feeedom to call him out as a racist. That’s how this free speech thing works. You get to say your piece and I get to say mine, and the government doesn’t act to silence either one of us for our opinions.
At Berkeley yesterday, Milo was scheduled to speak to a gathering of College Republicans. Students who disagreed with his abhorrent views came out to protest. Things escalated into violence (which none of us condone), and the University was forced to cancel the speech out of security concerns. To be clear, Berkeley did not cancel Milo’s appearance because of its content. They canceled it because there was a genuine security risk to students, staff, and property.
Nonetheless, conservative commentators pounced, arguing that conservative speech had been suppressed unjustly. This morning, Todd Starnes even went as far as to say that the protesting students were homophobic, xenophobic racists because Milo is British and gay and one of the buildings damaged was named after a civil rights leader. To be clear, challenging someone who is gay on his racist ideology isn’t homophobic. Refusing them service or public accommodation because they’re gay is. Protesting white nationalists from another country isn’t xenophobic. Demonizingsomeone just because they’re from another country is xenophobic. Incidentally damaging a building named after a civil rights leader isn’t racist. Saying someone can’t do their job because of their race is.
Either way, these folks were foaming at the mouth to take down those liberal bastions of free thought and learning, arguing that all Federal funding should be pulled from Berkeley until they allow free speech:
There are two basic patterns here – just parroting whatever it is Fox News commentators like and threatening Federal funding whenever anyone does something you don’t like. First off, true leaders don’t take their cues from cable tv shows. If you were doing this right, they’d be aligning to your agenda, not the other way around. Everyone’s crazy drunk Uncle Bill can parrot Fox talking points. You’re in charge, you should be a little more informed than someone who spends most of their weekends drinking Michelob and watching NASCAR. You should drive the conversation and agenda, not Fox and Friends.
As for the constant threat of pulling back Federal funds, it’s a moronic threat. It continues to demonstrate your total lack of understanding about how any of this works. You can’t make student financial aid contingent upon whether an institution meets Fox News’s standards for “free speech.” You can’t override Congressionally mandated funding formulas to bend to your whims. You just can’t do it, so stop acting like you can and pick up a book. You might learn something.
All of this is beside the fact that Berkeley didn’t even censor Milo’s speech. There was a genuine and immediate security risk, and they canceled the speech to minimize danger to the community. That is literally the example the Supreme Court gives for when restricting speech is acceptable.
But let’s talk about the speech itself, because I keep hearing conservatives complain about liberal backlash to what they have to say, arguing that, if progressives were really open and tolerant, they should first be tolerant of other viewpoints. To an extent, I agree, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t call a racist asshole a racist asshole when he’s being a racist asshole. Tolerance doesn’t mean being tolerant of intolerance. My willingness to accept that diverse viewpoints and perspectives are a strength in a democratic society doesn’t mean I have to leave your rampant racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and homophobia unchallenged. As much as conservatives like to mock progressives as delicate snowflakes, they seem to have a really hard time being called out for exactly who and what they are.
This is an important time in American history. Our democratic ideals and values, our open and diverse society, are at stake. I recently saw this tweet:
We’re alive now. This is what we would’ve done. We will call out fascism when we see it. We will call out racism when we see it. We will call out xenophobia when we see it. And homophobia. And misogyny. And islamophobia. And calling it out and upholding our ideals isn’t limiting your free speech. It’s using my freedoms to protect the freedoms of others. It’s using my voice to speak up for voting rights, due process, reproductive rights, religious freedom, and on and on.
What I do now is what I would’ve done, and I’ll be damned if I would’ve been silent.