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Thorner: Expert says weak First Amendment defense could endanger its future



Free speech picture

By Nancy Thorner - 

One free speech expert believes that the primary threat to free speech isn't from terrorists, but from an unwillingness to defend free speech.

That's what Steve Simpson, editor of the book Defending Free Speech and director of legal studies at the Ayn Rand Institute, told an audience at the Heartland Institute on Wednesday, February 22 when discussing the constant assault on this fundamental freedom and its implications for the future of liberty.


Opening Remarks by Simpson

Simpson recollected that it was only 25 months ago when the slaughter at the offices of the satire magazine Charlie Hebdo took place in Paris, France. Simpson believes that the primary threat to free speech doesn't come from terrorist attacks, per se, but from an unwillingness to defend free speech. Although terrorist attacks are not inconsequential, threats and killings can only succeed in chilling our speech if we let them through appeasing those who resort to threats and violence.

Consider, he said, how editor Flemming Rose of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten was threatened with death for publishing drawings of Muhammad. It was on September 30, 2005 when the Danish newspaper published 12 editorial cartoons under the title, “The Face of Muhammad” – the most notorious of which depicted the prophet with a bomb in his turban. Flemming Rose still lives under a death threat in the U.S.

Free speech cannot exist when some are willing to resort to force. Condoning violence in response to speech will only end up ensuring that violence will become the rule. The free speech now under attack in Western nations is far too often the product of radical Islamists. It is a scary, long-term situation. Unfortunately, appeasement seems to be the mode of operation in many nations. It is important what the public thinks about continuing attacks, for it is a window into how people regard freedom of speech today. 

Steve Simpson also spoke of the current Supreme Court being one of the best courts for freedom of speech in many decades, at least for now.

What is Freedom of Speech?

Steve Simpson described freedom of speech as an individual right. We can do or say almost anything as long as it doesn’t violate the rights of others. But too often lately, free speech is no longer appropriate if someone is offended.

Simpson said these fundamental ideas must endure the right of free speech to flourish:

1. Reason: The Age of Enlightenment (sometimes known as the Age of Reason) influenced our Founding Fathers, for in the Age of Enlightenment reason was discovered.

2. Declaration of Independence: The document expresses our right to pursue our own happiness, and that our life serves to bring us happiness.

3. Political liberty: Individuals having individual rights create government to protect those rights, so long as they don't violate the rights of others.

 What's Happening to Free Speech of College Campuses?

Foremost in Simpson’s mind were the riots at the University of California at Berkeley sparked by the mere presence on campus of Breitbart Tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos. He was invited to speak there by a college Republican organization, and the resulting violence forced the speech to be canceled. But it was what happened in the aftermath of the riot that caused much consternation and reflection.

The Daily Californian, the student newspaper at the University of California, Berkeley, published a series of op-eds defending the use of violence to shut down Yiannopoulos’ lecture. The series is called “Violence as self-defense,” ostensibly on the premise that conservative speech is a physical threat. 

A defense must be mounted against what happened at Berkeley, and what is also taking place on other college campuses. Speaking is not akin to engaging in violence. Never does what is perceived by another as offensive speech authorize acts of violence as a means of self-defense. Because Yiannopoulos’ speech represented a threat to the safety of students attending Berkley – such as illegal immigrant students being ousted – the college leftists determined that the only choice available was violence.

Importance of Reason, Pursuit of Happiness, and Individualism

As a moral argument, reason and persuasion should be used, Simpson said, not force.

From an individual standpoint, free speech and freedom of thought – and the right to exercise these freedoms – is essential to any man, woman, and child in any society. Our own expressions are essential in solving problems. Thinking can't be forced on us. We have the right to come to our own conclusions to guide us in our lives. 

Simpson noted that reason was discovered in the Age of Enlightenment, sometimes called the Age of Reason. The American Enlightenment (1714 – 1818) was influenced by the 18th-century European Enlightenment and its own native American philosophy. Our Founding Fathers lived during this period of intellectual ferment in the 13 American colonies, which, in turn, led to the American Revolution and the creation of the American Republic. It was during the American Enlightenment that scientific reasoning was applied to politics, science, and religion.

When logic and reason are thrown out the window, violence remains the only option, as what played out at Berkeley. Yiannopoulos’ lecture remarks were predetermined to be offensive. Because of this assumption, there was no other choice open but to fight back.

What has caused reason to be dismissed by so many? According to Simpson, this disturbing trend ties in with the post-modernist strain of teachings in humanities, where reason is a nuisance and a made-up concept. Simpson cited Stanley Fish as believing there is no such thing as free speech; that it’s a political weapon that is used against other people.

In Fish’s book published in 1944, There's No Such Thing As Free Speech (and it's a good thing, too), Fish wrote: Free speech is what is left over when a community has determined in advance what it does not want to hear.”

Use of Collectivism to Limit Free Speech 

ExxonMobil is facing investigation into whether it has been suppressing research findings on climate change as far back the 1970s, disregarding ExxonMobil’s nearly 40-year history of climate research that was conducted publicly in conjunction with the Department of Energy, academics and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Exxon’s published input about the impact of fossil fuels on climate change took the form of a scientific debate: on the one hand, and on the other hand. Exxon was just looking into the issue to clarify it.

The attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts have brought lawsuits against Exxon, claiming Exxon knew it was lying about climate change and global warming, a concept which is now being promoted as truth, and as a ploy to sell more gasoline. Also under investigation is whether Exxon played a role in persuading President George W. Bush not to ratify the Kyoto protocol, a global treaty committing signatories to targets for reducing greenhouse gases.

There is nothing to prove that Exxon knew about the claimed potential risk of fossil fuels that now has been equated with man-made global warming.

Law exists to protect our individual rights. It’s not the government's job is to protect society at large and to see that it remains moral according to what government dictates. Regarding how collectivism effects on the law: It protects everyone in general, but no one in particular. Collectivism is seeping into the law and is undermining our freedom of speech. It puts government in charge of what groups of individuals should think and the views of individuals are ignored

Questions and Answers 

The session was thought-provoking and lively at times, which was altogether fitting as the exercise of free speech was on exhibit.

Question: It seems that in this society free speech can no longer be tolerated, even if persuasion is used. Those who disagree are shut down. Why?

Simpson: He admitted that free speech has plummeted on college campuses where advocates for Communism flourish.

[Thorner: It seemed incredible for Simpson to express his lack of knowledge about how billionaire George Soros is promoting violence, even at Berkeley, by using his tremendous wealth to train hundreds of paid individuals to invade events across this nation to cause havoc, stifle opposition, and try to destroy Trump and his administration. Such action constitutes treason to me. Find proof in the recent articles noted below that the protests and violence against President Trump and GOP legislators holding town hall meeting are not by chance, but are being organized and funded in a big way by George Soros and even an Obama-aligned organization with an intent to destroy Trump and his administration.]

‘Indivisible,’ With Ties to George Soros, Sows Division Against Trump, GOP Lawmakers

Obama’s Organizing for Action Partners with Soros-Linked ‘Indivisible’ to Disrupt Trump’s Agenda

 Meet ‘Indivisible,’ the progressive organization behind the raucous GOP town-halls

Obama-Aligned Organizing for Action Relaunches for Trump Era

Question: Are rants from Democrats taking President Trump to task out of line? 

Simpson: He told of often hearing complaints from Democrats complaining of nasty comments made by Republicans, especially about Obamacare when Obama was in office. 

[Thorner: Simpson seems to think what is good for the goose is good for the gander, but can rants against Obamacare, which rang of the truth, be compared to the present day rants by Democrats against President Trump because he won the presidency?]

Question: Is it fair for Trump to take the press to task?

Simpson: The press has become factionalized like many other groups of individuals. Check out Federalist No. 10. It also missed the story of the century. But Simpson believes that to attack the entire establishment press is counterproductive and problematic, although he did admit that the press does lean left.

You can watch Simpson’s lecture here.

Upcoming free Wednesday Night Heartland Events

March 15th

Vaping: How Government Regulation Can Kill Innovation

5:30 PM – 7:30 PM Arlington Heights, Illinois

March 22nd

Shall Not Be Infringed: The New Assaults on Your Second Amendment

5:30 PM – 7:30 PM Arlington Heights, Illinois


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  1. Democrats rant against Trump because he’s an “alternative fact”-mongering clown with questionable ties to Russia and acts a Twitter whining 10 year old. He can say whatever he wants, but the First Amendment doesn’t state that the President is free to make up stories out of whole cloth and present them as truth. I guess he adheres to George Orwell’s “Ignorance is Strength” slogan.

  2. The salient discussion for readers of the IR should focus on the suppression of free speech – and the idea of free speech- at the local public schools and university campuses.
    It is there that a generation of children are being inculcated with anti-free speech notions, such as “no speech should be allowed when it makes anyone feel uncomfortable.”
    “Speech codes” to this effect, have been instituted on college campuses for more than a decade now and with the exception of the conservative Trustees at the University of Colorado, I see that conservatives have been AWOL on the topic.
    Same with local school boards, where parents will sometimes get all aflutter over uncontrolled school spending, but remain silent on the neo-totalitarian anti-free speech ideas and practices being implemented there.
    I’m sorry, that Exxon’s speech on climate change is being thwarted. But that is just a result of and symptom of the Orwellian attack on Free speech that is daily occurring at most public schools and most colleges and universities, on a daily basis.
    And as usual, Republicans, who could have done something about it, let it fester and grow for decades.

  3. Democrats are now is the Commie party committed to the subjugation of american people. Committed to taking way the right of of property, free speech, freedom of religion, less one, (Islam)
    Democrats want to enslave all of us, less the elite cadre of their synophats.

  4. Brilliant observation. And so what do you propose to do about it, other than express nice sentiments from the safety of your laptop keyboard?
    Where is your local HS school board? – or even your elementary school board? Have you ever contacted them? Organized your neighbors to contact them?
    I have with regard to mine.