Democracy Only Works When Speech Is Free

Published November 24, 2015

“Do you have anything against the United States or its allies?”

Um, well no.

The question was posed to me more than 30 years ago by a fellow who was looking for a college roommate.

He was an aspiring Army officer who wanted to make sure he wasn’t exposed to — or associated with — ideas he didn’t agree with.

We ended up rooming together, but I always thought it was a bit sad that on a college campus, of all places, someone was afraid of ideas.

I love the marketplace of ideas one finds on college campuses – or on newspaper editorial pages.

Sadly, there are quite a few folks who believe freedom of speech exists only to protect what they have to say — but not to protect the speech of someone with whom they disagree.

I get letters from those folks every week.

I can appreciate a reasoned argument, even if it is one I disagree with. Sometimes, especially if it is one I disagree with.

That’s why I find what’s happening on college campuses so disturbing.

Youngsters — and some adults — don’t want all points of view told.

Instead they are asking for affirmation of their experience or “pain.”


College isn’t a place to be coddled; it’s a place to be challenged.

It ruffled some feathers when a student journalist went to cover a protest on the University of Missouri campus. He was forced away by a mob.

Here is what Brenda Smith-Lezama, the vice president of the Missouri’s student association had to say to MSNBC:

“I personally am tired of hearing that First Amendment rights protect students when they are creating a hostile and unsafe learning environment for myself and for other students here.”

Having a journalist cover your event in a public place is “hostile” and “unsafe?”

Give me a break.

Over at Smith College, a fancy East Coast school, students protesting in solidarity with those in Missouri barred reporters from covering their event unless the journalists affirmed that they were in agreement with their ideas.

This mindset is metastasizing from campus to campus.

Famous defense lawyer and Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz says he experienced it recently when he spoke at City College of New York, where he was the target of anti-Semitic slurs and hate speech.

“These students don’t want me to be safe,” he told Business Insider. “They don’t want students who agree with me to be safe. They just want their ideas to be safe and protected from any contrary point of view.”

Well said, professor.

Democracy only works when speech is free and open.

Scott Reeder ([email protected]) is the Executive Editor of the Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy Institute. An earlier version of this article first appeared at Reprinted with permission.