Because Free Speech Won't Defend Itself

Dennis Prager and Adam Carolla come from backgrounds that are about as different as can be. Prager is Jewish, politically conservative, and bookishly intellectual. Meanwhile Carolla, a comedian who never went to college, identifies with some combination of atheist-paganism and holds a mix of political positions. Yet they have this in common: they are American, and they share the uniquely American value of free speech — so much so, they've teamed up and made a film about it.

In No Safe Spaces, they travel the U.S. and Canada, mostly highlighting the craziness on college campuses, where an emerging totalitarian dictum is telling us we don't have the right to say certain things if certain people belonging to certain identity groups might be offended. The film is meant to be a wakeup call to everyone. Although these demands for "safe spaces" began at the university, the same ideological fascism is coming to our neighborhoods and workplaces. If we don't meet it with courage and conviction, we will lose our hard-won freedom to speak our own thoughts.

No Safe Spaces highlights several scenarios where unwanted speech has been either punished, shut down, or has proceeded only behind the wall of armed law enforcement protection. Everyone should see it, in order to be fully aware of the threat we face. But rather than focus on the public pathologies, I want to highlight some examples of sanity and courage that shine like bright stars on this otherwise ominous horizon. In No Safe Spaces, you will also see:

Student Conviction: Isabella Chow is a third-year student at UC Berkeley who in 2018 was elected to student senate. When a certain bill came up, she decided she couldn't vote for it because of her Christian beliefs, and so she abstained with a short statement explaining why. The backlash was swift and fierce. Hundreds of students demanded her resignation — no dialogue, no respect, no attempt at mutual understanding. She was called names, voted out of clubs, and disaffiliated from every student organization with whom she'd had a working relationship. Still, through it all, she maintained her conviction. "I wasn't elected to not listen to my conscience," she says, "and I wasn't elected to not represent a religious voice on campus, even if that voice is a minority here at Berkeley." She doesn't regret what she did, knowing, "the names that I have been called around campus … don't define me."

Unlikely Allies: CNN commentator Van Jones, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, talk show host Dave Rubin, Harvard professors Cornel West and Alan Dershowitz, and even Barack Obama, none of whom have been friends to political conservativism in the past, all agree about the importance of conserving free speech. "There's no question," said Dershowitz, "the hard left poses a far greater danger to the American future than the hard right." If somebody comes to you and says something that you disagree with, said President Obama, "you should have an argument with them. But you shouldn't silence them [because you're] too sensitive to hear what [they] have to say."

Perseverance: Dennis Prager sidelines as a conductor. In 2017, he was invited to conduct the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra as part of a fundraiser. Even though it was a fundraiser for their own orchestra, seven members announced they would boycott the event because of his political views, and they urged their fellow musicians and the public to boycott too. (Prager was not being paid to conduct; he was donating his services to the orchestra.) But the concert went on as planned, and the only empty seats in the house were those of the absent musicians. It was the first time a regional orchestra had ever sold out the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

There's no way to know if the Prager fracas actually brought people to the concert who might not otherwise have attended. But we can know this: everyone present, whether musician or patron, chose to ignore (or defy) the cancel culture of intimidation and speech suppression. That's the kind of America we need to preserve for the next generation.

"Fifty-eight percent of Americans hold opinions that they don't feel comfortable sharing publicly," said comedian Bryan Callen, but "America was built on ideas," Carolla reminds us. "The only way we separate the good ideas from the bad ideas is to be free to say whatever we want about them. We're not all going to agree, but that's what makes us individuals. And we can't lose that."

Indeed. The way to break out of this atmosphere of fear and push back against the assault on free speech is simple, though not necessarily easy. Speak up. Summon your courage and say what you believe. The first thing," says Prager, "is to decide: I will be courageous."

is a freelance writer and blogger on apologetics and matters of faith.
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