Benjamin Franklin, wrote that “Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government: When this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved.”
Last night, I had the pleasure of watching “No Safe Spaces,” a wonderfully enlightening and chilling documentary by comedian and podcast king Adam Carolla and radio talk show host Dennis Prager.
It’s a movie that opens your eyes about how our voices are being shut. And it is scary. It’s as if the U.S. Constitution has been dropped, like an Alka-Seltzer, into a glass of water fizzling away.
Plop, plop, fizz-fizz.
The unlikely pair travel the country, talking to experts and advocates on the left and right. They toured college campuses, examined their own upbringings in an effort to understand what’s happening to free speech in America.
The movie depicts with humor and cinematic clarity how free speech can and should be a foundation upon which all Americans can agree. But that is clearly not the case within our university environment as the snowflake-safe-space-micro-aggression climate on college campuses is as widespread as ever, including here in Alaska.
If we ban dissenting opinions, how can we ever discover what is true and noble and best?
The movie shows how a Yale lecturer sparks in-your-face rage after suggesting students can decide for themselves which Halloween costumes are offensive. A liberal, evolutionary biology professor at Evergreen State College is physically mobbed and eventually fired for not agreeing that all white faculty and students should remain home one day. Remarkably, the administration tells the professor that campus police have been told to stand down, and that he will not be protected from possible harm. In another setting, a teaching assistant who self-identifies as a leftist loses her job because she plays a clip of a professor of transgender studies debating Jordan Peterson to discuss grammar use.
Although many individuals assaulted by the speech suppressors in the movie are
ultimately awarded legal fees and “win” their cases, you leave the theatre with a palpable sense that the First Amendment is on very shaky ground unless we turn this ship around. As Prager accurately notes in the last line of the film, “America is the true safe space.” If we ban dissenting opinions, how can we ever discover what is true and noble and best?
Free speech, as with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, are unalienable rights that exist above and before the U.S. Constitution. The Founders developed that precious, God-inspired document to secure basic rights that predate all governments. The words on that constitutional parchment prevent our government from encroaching on freedoms that are as old as humanity. As Thomas Jefferson said, “let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”
The First Amendment words, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” is not about granting a right to citizens. It’s about restricting the government from violating a pre-existing right of the people.
In a truly free society – in this experiment we call America – being offended is simply part of the landscape and even fertilizer for growing better ideas.
Van Jones, a liberal CNN commentator, says that when people are offended by someone’s speech, they “should never deny the pain, but don’t let the pain have the last word.” Colleges today are filled with professors and students who have defined themselves by a victimhood mentality constantly seeking someone to blame for their lot in life. Bill Mahrer, the toxic talk show host who has made a living hating on conservatives and maligning people of faith, asks in the movie how anyone ever got the idea they have a right not to ever be offended. But free speech has been severely restricted for that very reason by today’s gatekeepers of information – Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube and the like. More than 100 of PragerU’s videos have been restricted by YouTube. Tech firms overseeing and monitoring America’s conversations is a chilling reality, and “No Safe Spaces” is a wake up call.
In one of my favorite laugh-out-loud scenes, Adam Corolla, is giving a testimony before U.S. Congress regarding free speech on campus. He compares today’s college kids to astronauts. Left without gravity for too long, they begin to lose muscle because of the lack of pressure and resistance in their enclosed world. In a truly free society – in this experiment we call America – being offended is simply part of the landscape and even fertilizer for growing better ideas.
When you lose the idea of dissenting views, you lose America.
Click here to see showtimes of “No Safe Places” at the Regal Tikahtnu movie theater in Anchorage.
The writer is president of Alaska Family Action, a statewide, pro-family public policy organization.