What Price is Freedom?
For the University of California at Berkeley, apparently the answer is “at least $600,000.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, that’s what their new chancellor, Carol Crist, said it cost to provide security for the speech by former Breitbart writer Ben Shapiro to speak unimpeded on Thursday night, September 14. Even more astounding, before the speech the city of Berkeley’s City Council rescinded the ban on police use of pepper spray for the first time in two decades.
Surely Thomas Jefferson would be cheering the courage of Ms. Crist to stand up to the pressure from multiple left-leaning students who have previously prevented conservative speakers from appearing on campus.
“The boisterous Sea of Liberty is never without waves.” Jefferson said on Oct 20, 1820. Clearly that seems to be true in America today where again and again we hear outcries against those whose speech offends one group or another. Those cries are followed all too often by vehement demands that certain types of speech, those who advocate one “offensive” belief or another, should be banned, restricted or even arrested for expressing their views.
But who decides what should be banned? That’s the difficult question: “Who decides?”
Most rational Americans would agree that certain beliefs are unwelcome in mainstream America. Someone who advocates naziism, anti-semitism, or racism is probably not the kind of person most Americans would want to take home to dinner, but does that mean that – so long as they don’t advocate violence – their freedom to express their views should be banned?
Sure, some say, we know what’s “over the line” and things that are “over the line” like Nazis, should be banned. The problem there is how do we know where to draw that line? Who decides?
America is a democracy; maybe we should let the citizens vote on it? If 50.1% vote one way, and 49.9% vote the other way, do we really want to ban some aspects of free speech on that close a vote? Most of us would probably quickly agree that “the majority rules” is probably not the best way to decide where to draw that line.
Do we let Congress decide? Or maybe the President? Perhaps the Supreme Court? Are we as freedom loving Americans willing to give any of those the power to decide which speech is allowable, and which is not? Again, I doubt that most of us would be willing to agree with that, particularly since recent Rasmussen polls show only 15% of Americans think Congress is doing a good or excellent job.
That, I fear, is the problem. Who can we trust to decide which speech is protected by law, and which is not?
The answer, perhaps, is to trust not in the law to ban what we feel is repugnant, but to rely on the actions, feelings, and social interactions of the citizenry to reflect how Americans see things.
When we find some group repugnant, disgusting, offensive, then let our actions – which we are often told speak louder than mere words – speak for us. Stay away from those kind of people. Turn your back, don’t pay any attention to them, don’t interact with them – just walk away and ignore them. After a while, when they realize that they have no influence on the rest of us, they’ll slink back under that rock that they crawled out from under and stop bothering us.