Op-Ed: Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Bother to Defend Right-Wing ‘Free Speech’
Every day, a major media outlet runs another thinkpiece bemoaning a group of left-wing students rejecting a right-wing racist or homophobe from campus.
Editorialists wring their hands and wail about the death of academic freedom at the hands of censorious politically correct youth. Conservatives cry they’ve been censored by protesters at their rallies.
“We might disagree,” centrists and liberals say, “but we must defend the speech of those we disagree with, even if we think their beliefs are abominable.”
No we don’t. Here’s why.
No One’s Actually Violating Their First Amendment Rights
Neo-phrenologist Charles Murray, who wraps his white supremacist ideology in widely debunked pseudoscience, was chased away from a speech at Middlebury College by angry protesters. A New York Times editorial declared that the students were “smothering free speech” and threatening the First Amendment.
However, the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee anyone access to their preferred platform. The First Amendment doesn’t guarantee anyone the right to give a speech at Middlebury College, or to get a lucrative book deal, or to get their work published in a major newspaper.
Charles Murray, who once burned a cross next to a police station, isn’t a real academic; he’s just a racist hate monger with a big vocabulary. His career is devoted to “proving” that black people are genetically inferior. His claims have been debunked many times by brilliant scientific minds. His grasp of political science is on par with a creationist’s understanding of the origin of life, or an anti-vaxxer’s understanding of germ theory. The Southern Poverty Law Center has officially declared him an extremist.
Murray does not belong at a legitimate institute of learning. He belongs in a sideshow. If throwing him off your college is censorship, then so is firing an astronomy professor who believes that the moon is made of cheese.
Right-Wingers’ Free Speech Isn’t Actually in Danger
You may not have noticed, but right-wing ideologues are doing pretty well right now. The White House is full of them. They’re not in danger of dying out.
Meanwhile, hate crimes against vulnerable populations like Muslims and LGBTQ people have risen. If you’re going to worry about anyone, worry about them.
Protest Is a Form of Free Speech
The students who waved “no eugenics” signs and shouted at Charles Murray weren’t squashing free speech. They were practicing free speech themselves.
Protest is a form of free speech. Asking students not to protest against a racist speaker is censorious; it’s trying to silence dissent.
They Don’t Care About Your Free Speech, or Anyone Else’s
The same right-wingers who denounce political correctness are perfectly happy to suppress the speech of people they disagree with.
Hordes of conservatives brayed for the blood of football player Colin Kapernick after he knelt peacefully during the national anthem to protest racism and police brutality. Even the President of the United States joined in, though he previously threatened to cut off UC Berkeley’s funding after students prevented a white nationalist pedophile apologist from hosting a hate rally on campus.
Right-wingers routinely silence the voices of queer people. They cut LGBTQ-themed literature out of school curriculum. They forbid the discussion of homosexuality in sex ed classes, with “no promo homo” laws. They try to punish filmmakers for including queer characters with boycotts.
Members of the alt-right tried to get Prof. George Ciccariello-Maher fired from his job after he made fun of white supremacists’ fears of interracial marriage. Ciccariello’s employer, Drexel University, did not defend him; instead, they issued a public statement formally condemning him.
And last year, Republican lawmakers yanked funding from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion for discussing holding an event called Sex Week.
Right-wingers will gleefully silence their own kind when they dare step out of turn. Conservative media outlet The Blaze recently fired pundit Tomi Lahren for admitting she was pro-choice. And Breitbart, which promoted Milo Yiannopoulos’s misogyny, racism and transphobia, immediately fired him after he got into hot water for making some (genuinely repulsive) statements suggesting it was OK for grown men to have sex with adolescent boys.
Where were the conservatives wringing their hands about the First Amendment then? Where were the thinkpieces? Nowhere, because right-wingers don’t bother to defend speech they disagree with.
There Are More Deserving Victims
While conservative racists loudly complain that they’ve been silenced, other voices are quietly struggling against censorship, with little to no support.
And yet there’s no widespread public outcry about the silencing of Palestinian voices. There’s no flood of hand-wringing thinkpieces. There’s no national debate about the smothering of free speech. And there’s a reason for that.
This Isn’t Really About Free Speech
Conservatives don’t really care about free speech. What they care about is protecting hatred: enshrining it and declaring it sacred. They want to say something bigoted without being called bigots.
Don’t help them. Don’t protect their bigotry. Don’t fight for them, because they will not fight for you.
(Featured image by MmeEmil via iStock)