Why Free Speech Matters

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With the culture war lost, Catholics must join libertarians in grassroot efforts to challenge dogmatic intersectional claims

In the end, Ann Coulter’s speech went on.

The conservative commentator may have cancelled her appearance at the University of California at Berkeley due to threats of violence, but a grassroots group of conservative free-speech advocates, headlined by “the godfather of the hipster movement” and Catholic convert Gavin McGinnes, defied anarchists, an apathetic police force, and virtue-signaling media to read the speech Ann was supposed to give.

Now, whether or not you agree with the points made in the speech, which focused heavily on illegal immigration, is not the most important takeaway from last week’s events at Berkeley. Certainly, the position of the Church doesn’t line up point for point with many of the beliefs held by the ardent Trump supporters who’ve made the ultra-liberal California city their stomping ground over the last two months. But to a certain extent, that’s the point. Ever since the violent reaction to Milo Yiannopoulos’ planned speech in February, conservatives and libertarians have made it their mission to protest at Berkeley, knowing full well that if minority voices will not be tolerated amongst the most renowned of the Left’s secular churches, then academia will further cement itself within a theocracy of intersectionality.

Christianity, or any voice supportive of the family (that famously patriarchal system of cis-hetero male oppression,) will be silenced. Students who practice their faith will be driven to the margins. And any attempt to broaden students’ understanding of the world beyond a postmodern Foucault vision will be met with pseudo-legal arguments about something called “hate speech.”

Catholic Universities are already succumbing.

In the past month alone we’ve seen Duquesne students protest Chick-fil-A over feeling “unsafe” over the companies past position over gay marriage (unsurprisingly, Barack Obama’s past position was not scrutinized), not to mention Notre Dame students starting the inevitable hashtag campaign against Vice President Mike Pence’s invitation to speak at commencement.

“What we want to do is give a voice to those who have been silenced,” said one student protestor. “It’s not even a matter of feeling like they have been silenced — they have been silenced on our campus and in our country.”

The hypocrisy, especially given the actual silencing of conservative speakers and faculty members on college campuses, is nauseating.

These incidents, while small and in some cases laughable, are disconcerting. Fifty years after many Catholic colleges sold themselves over to following secular cultural norms in the Land of Lakes Agreement, they’re now endangering a commitment to providing their students with an education informed by reason and the free exchange of ideas.

I was reminded of just how important this exchange of ideas can be during a speech at Franciscan University of Steubenville the day after McGinnes took to the streets of Berkeley. Speaking to students, social scientists, and a group of more than 30 West Point cadets, Catholic scholar William Kirk Kilpatrick warned that if the Church did not take a more critical stance against radical Islam, including questioning its misogynistic and oppressive practices, then Catholics in Europe would soon become extinct.

Kilpatrick was not speaking to the choir. As an employee of the University, I spoke to many individuals afterwards, including the West Point cadets, and could tell that the former Boston College professor had unnerved many with his insistence that Pope Francis is out of touch with the threat posed by Islam. But what amazed me was not so much how the attendees views differed from the speaker (in some cases sharply), but how grateful these 18-22 year-olds were to discuss and debate their disagreements. Undoubtedly, those in attendance took something away from the lecture—something the bubbled students at public institutions will never experience.

This is the point of free speech—to foster a climate in which minority and dissenting opinions are considered. And now, more than ever, when accusations of “transphobia,” “homophobia,” and “Islamophobia” are slung at anyone who offers a competing worldview to the intersectional claim, Christians are in the minority. The intellectual basis of our faith now depends on the burgeoning free speech movement that has taken to the streets in Trump and Gadson flags.

The self-described “patriots” who are marching against Antifa in Berkeley might seem odd allies to a Catholics, yet their mission is vitally important for the future of both public and private colleges. Without grassroots efforts, and without loudly pushing back against charges of homophobia, transphobia, and Islamophobia, Catholic and Christian voices will soon find themselves expelled from the very places that shape minds and hearts.


Photo credit: cdrin/Shutterstock.com

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org

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Adam Nettina is a freelance writer and graduate student studying creative writing at Abilene Christian University.

1 Comment

  1. As usual, CV makes this into a “liberal” issue, although most convervative groups had NO PROBLEM with these zones when George W Bush was in office and forced anti-war protestors into zones.

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