Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Freedom to Speak, Freedom to Hear

SPOTLIGHT: Free speech is about you speaking your mind. Intellectual freedom is about other people hearing your voice.

BIG PICTURE: During the Cold War, the American Library Association (ALA) took a bold stand against censorship. Citizens of a free and democratic country, it argued, had every right to read pro-Communist literature. An informed public should “have full access to conflicting ideas, controversial points of view, to minority opinions.”

In 1951, the ALA said libraries had a responsibility “to provide information on all sides of controversial issues.” Rejecting a proposal to segregate politically unpopular books, its governing council declared that, since “Communism, fascism, or other authoritarians tend to suppress ideas,” librarians must oppose “any group which aims at closing any path to knowledge.”

Full access to conflicting points-of-view. A right to hear all sides. These ideas are crucial to liberty and democracy. Back in 1951, librarians correctly described fascists as people who attempt to shut down debate.

Those librarians would be startled by events unfolding on today’s university campuses. In 2013, Alex Epstein was invited to give a speech titled Fossil Fuels Improve the Planet at Vassar College.

Activists tried to get the event cancelled. Posters advertising it were ripped down. A moderator had to be flown in from out-of-town because, in the words of one of the organizers, “all of our members, including myself, felt too intimidated to host the lecture.”

A libellous e-mail was distributed by the VassarGreens, accusing Epstein of being “racist, sexist, and classist” as well as “meritless and oppressive.” He would, it said, “be spewing lies on our campus.”

TOP TAKEAWAY: University activists now behave like fascists. They stifle unpopular views – and they deny others the opportunity to hear those views.


Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate
Greg Lukianoff

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