After facing years of attacks from every side, free speech on college campuses finally has a supporter in the White House.
The Trump administration is set to release a new executive order requiring colleges and universities to support free speech in order to receive federal research funding. President Donald Trump’s proposal would add a “free speech requirement” to the contractual obligations that come with said funding, forcing academic institutions to demonstrate their First Amendment bona fides.
Whether or not one supports this executive order, Trump is right to call attention to an epidemic that has plagued American academia for years. From talk show host Bill Maher’s boycott petition at the University of California at Berkeley to the more recent protests aimed at conservative commentators like Ben Shapiro, campus liberals have become increasingly vitriolic toward differences of opinion — as well as those who voice them. Just last month, a conservative activist was assaulted at Berkeley simply for protesting hate crime hoaxes.
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And, unfortunately, the problem seems to only be getting worse. I serve with an organization known as Young Americans for Liberty, which works to overturn unconstitutional restrictions on free speech. I spend my days working with college students, many of whom face discrimination and harassment on the basis of their political views.
My experiences with YAL have taught me that, despite the left’s firm monopoly on higher education, millions of students still value the liberties enshrined in the First Amendment. For this reason, we launched our “Fight for Free Speech” campaign in 2016, a project designed to overturn unconstitutional speech restrictions on college campuses. To date, we have reversed unlawful speech codes at 51 schools, impacting the lives of more than one million students.
Freedom of speech is not a left vs. right issue. Both parties have an obligation to fight the radical activists’ assault on the First Amendment. As Americans, our right to speak freely and openly is guaranteed by the Constitution. Whether we agree with those speaking is irrelevant to their legal right to do so.
While Trump’s support is encouraging, we still need to remain skeptical of executive power (even when used with the best of intentions). A cursory glance at the earliest years of American history tells us exactly why unrestrained executive power hardly produces a harmonious existence for anyone. Renowned writer and journalist H.L. Mencken once told us, “I believe in only one thing: Liberty, but I do not believe in liberty enough to want to force it upon anyone.”
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This is not to oppose the president’s executive order, but it is clearly not the optimal outcome. The American people must defend the First Amendment themselves — on the ground — so that an executive order isn’t necessary.
The relevance of Mencken’s words persists today. At YAL, we engage with free speech and other issues peacefully. Unlike many of their left-wing counterparts, YAL students don’t throw rocks through windows or set buildings aflame simply because a socialist comes to campus. We change hearts and minds through dialogue and debate, not intimidation or a mob mentality.
That is a blueprint for all Americans to follow — on campus and beyond.
Cliff Maloney serves as president of Young Americans for Liberty.
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