Monday August 31, 2020
Below is my column in the Hill newspaper on the rising concern over compelled speech on our campuses and our streets.
Here is the column:
“Silence is violence” has everything that you want in a slogan: Alliteration. Brevity. Simplicity. It also can be chilling for some in the academic and free-speech communities.
On one level, it conveys a powerful message that people of good faith should not remain silent about great injustices. However, it can have a more menacing meaning to “prove the negative” – demanding that people prove they are not racist.
In a prior column, I warned of the thin line between speech codes and speech commands, as people move from compelling silence to compelling speech: “Once all the offending statues are down, and all the offending professors are culled, the appetite for collective suppression will become a demand for collective expression.”
The line between punishing speech and compelling speech is easily crossed when free speech itself is viewed as a threat. It is not just the many cases of journalists, academics and others fired for expressing dissenting views. Even expressing support in the wrong way can be a terminal offense, like declaring “all lives matter” rather than “Black Lives Matter,” as in the firing of University of Massachusetts-Lowell Dean of Nursing Leslie Neal-Boylan or Vermont principal Tiffany Riley. While most of us support Black Lives Matter, it has become an official position of many schools — and variations are not tolerated. The concern is not only the establishment of orthodox values but the forced recitation of those values.