(Centennial Fellow) In Russia, Vladimir Putin's government is prosecuting three women for a prayer to toss the president out of office. In the Netherlands and Denmark, officials have been putting people on trial for what they have said about Muslims. In Chicago, San Francisco and Boston, mayors are aiming to stop a restaurant chain from expanding its outlets because the owner does not believe in gay marriage.
Much of the world is still fighting freedom, insisting that either you bow to positions officially deemed right and pure or face sanctions. And yes, there is a significant difference in degree between what's happening in these different places, but it's the same tendency in all of them – something Americans, at least, ought to recognize as a demand for subservient serfdom contrary to all we stand for.
The charge against the Russian women is religiously hostile hooliganism, according to a Reuters account. The Russian Orthodox Church supported Putin's return to the presidency, and the women – all in their 20s – danced on the altar of Christ the Savior Cathedral as a protest prayer. The women say they are anti-authoritarian, not anti-Christian, and in fact want Christian support in their fight against Putin. The top penalty: seven years in prison.
Any normal, balanced, halfway decent human being would say that, at the most, it was slap-on-the-wrist time, not destroy-your-life time, even as a threat. Protests have limits, but so does governmental mayhem.
Defenders of laws against "hate speech" would have you believe that prosecutions can be confined to limited circumstances of clear-cut maliciousness obviously endangering others. That's not what happens in the real world. Such laws inevitably lead to the harassment of people like Lars Hedegaard, a Danish historian and journalist who had said Muslim men in some parts of the world engage in incestuous rape. The truth of his remarks wasn't the issue as Hedegaard went through a series of trials in which he was eventually exonerated.
Hedegaard could have gone to prison for two years if found guilty. Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician, faced one year in prison before being found not guilty of hate speech a year ago. He had argued that Islam was taking over his country and worried aloud that the Koran countenanced violence. While he took the anti-libertarian position the Koran should be banned, outlawing his opinions would still be akin to outlawing thought. And while Islam clearly has its peace lovers, a Muslim cleric's call for Wilders' beheading served as illustration of his violence claims.
All of these foreign accounts bring us finally to our own land of the less and less free, a place where some are doing their best to shut up think tanks, public commentators and campaign ads that see issues differently from them. Now this: Three mayors oppose the expansion of Chick-fil-A in their cities because, as a matter of religious conviction shared by millions, the owner does not believe in gay and lesbian marriage.
In Chicago, an alderman said a permit for a new restaurant would be denied – use of government to punish speech – and Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the firm's values are not the city's values although the firm's owner was not arguing against homosexual mates living together. He was not arguing against their putting together an array of legal agreements comparable to what you find in traditional marriages. He was not arguing the couples could never refer to their relationships as marriages.
While I agree that our society has visited unconscionable hurt on homosexuals and think we are veering toward allowing gay marriage nationally, I also think the basic question is whether we should officially redefine a fundamental institution at a time when it is already in tatters. At the very least, there is nothing alarming about the owner's stance, and it's Rahm Emanuel whose values are not those of a new world that has been different from the old in its exceptional devotion to liberty.
In the recent rush for civility, for making our political discourse sweet, pure and very nice, let's heed the warning of moderation in all things and not shrink from sentences like the one below. "His speeches left the impression of an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea; sometimes these meandering words would actually capture a straggling thought and bear it triumphantly a prisoner in their midst, until it died of servitude and overwork." The author was William McAdoo, a senator who became treasury secretary under Woodrow Wilson, more than once tried to get the Democratic nomination for president, never succeeded, but did succeed in superbly ridiculing a Republican president's speechifying. He was writing about Warren G. Harding, who won the White House by the biggest recorded margin ever on his way to administrative pratfalls, scandal and premature death after less than three years in office. To me, it's priceless, this poke that tickles the reader as it leaves the subject with the vainglorious wind knocked out of him, and I say fine, go for it. There are obvious rhetorical limits, such as vulgarity, defamation, deceptions, hate and bigotry. Comedian Bill Maher's anti-Catholic rants strike me as little more than a white sheet's distance from a Ku Klux Klan rally, for example, and that's not OK. But neither should we want a national goal of mindless mush, forever fearing to give offense when voicing unpleasant truths might be the best way to defend principle or squelch iniquity. I am not contradicting President Obama's Tucson speech, I hope. I appreciated his thumping the thesis that political rhetoric caused the shooting there. I liked his call for honest, civil debate, because brain-dead brutishness gets us nowhere and rational discussion helps. The grief informing Obama's words should hardly set the tone for all occasions, however. Though not in the Maher style, we especially do need wit, or more specifically, satire, described by a craftsman of that genre as "imperfect tenderness." If you want to get an idea of just how imperfect, catch a political skit on "Saturday Night Live,'' or tune in Jon Stewart and his "Daily Show." These TV performances, ordinarily to the left, can be pretty good at doing what satire is supposed to do, at showing up absurdities, contradictions and pomposities. For more with much the same mocking tone from the right, you might read Ann Coulter, who is very, very bright, straightforward, insightful and funny as she shatters liberal nonsense, or Mark Steyn, one of my favorites, a brilliant writer whose tenderness has also been called into question. The current list could easily be extended, but let's go back to the 19th century, to Abraham Lincoln, and after asking whether this hero of American history could ever have said something cutting, I will answer by revealing what he told someone about Stephen Douglas's reasoning ability. It was, he said, as thin as soup made from the shadow of a starving pigeon. Maybe there are some who think that kind of remark unacceptable and want to make ours either a nation of milquetoasts or one where one side shuts up while the other has its say. I've got just the right ghost to sic on them, that of H.L. Mencken, maybe the greatest journalistic satirist who wrote in 20th century America. He, too, attacked hapless Harding's speeches, and if it seems Harding has faced enough denigration for one column, let's pretend Mencken's joyful slam is aimed instead at one of those incredibly uncivil diatribes against the supposed incivility of people whose greatest sin was to expose some leftist hallucination. "It reminds me of a string of wet sponges, it reminds me of tattered washing on the line . . . of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically . . . It is rumble and bumble, it is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash." Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso and Denver, is now a columnist living in Colorado and a Centennial Institute Fellow.
Dead birds have lately been falling from the sky all over the place and if you wanted to be as inane in locating a cause as some have been about fault-finding in the tragic Arizona shooting, you would blame the tea party, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, Sarah Palin -- anyone to the right of Lenin. Problem solved. It's a laughable thesis, but if you ventured it, maybe some sober soul would gently explain that there isn't any discernible causal connection between political commentary and the demise of some of our feathered friends. Perhaps he would even politely advise you that, in the absence of contrary evidence, shutting up would be useful. Some such layman's therapy seems needed to help soothe the fevered brows of Paul Krugman of the New York Times and others contending that "hate-mongers" on the right prompted the shots that left six people dead and 14 wounded, including an exceptional congresswoman struggling for her life. One way to start is to describe what we know of the shooter. He is clearly some kind of psychopath more driven by inner voices than outer voices. We have no reports that he ever paid any attention at all to those accused of shared culpability. He does not seem to have been particularly political, although he read writings by both Hitler and Marx. One observation indicates that to the extent he is political, he is a leftist. He used marijuana and he ranted about grammar, although in a confused, blurry way hard to figure out. Given the facts, speculating about right-wing influence makes even less sense than speculation that he was led to killing by the killer weed. That argument would be an especially fit analysis for someone wanting to outlaw marijuana, which brings us to the subject of political purposes informing theories. It's interesting that much of the yelping about the violent language of conservatives comes from leftist sources that wish these conservative nuisances would quit hindering their policy aspirations. Not the least such source was a Krugman blog calling Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and others "hate-mongers" when Krugman himself is an ad hominem-attack artist whose misuse of facts and figures was once bemoaned by an official Times ombudsman. Liberals have been beating up on Palin because she once said conservatives had certain Democratic congressional seats in their "crosshairs." It was a metaphor. She meant nothing endangering by it. Democrats have talked of Republican seats as being the "bull's eye" they were aiming for, and even President Obama talked metaphorically duringt his 2008 campaign about bringing a gun to a confrontation. So what? Limbaugh gets bashed more than he bashes, but whatever the critics say about him, they should grant him a sense of humor and then find the humor in this screech from one leftist basher, Chris Matthews on MSNBC. "You guys see 'Live and Let Die,' the great Bond film with Yaphet Kotto as the bad guy, Mr. Big? In the end they jam a big CO2 pellet in his face and he blew up. I have to tell you, Rush Limbaugh is looking more and more like Mr. Big, and at some point somebody's going to jam a CO2 pellet into his head and he's going to explode like a giant blimp." That's reprehensible stuff, although it hardly makes Matthews complicit in any shooting. "It's worth pointing out that, at a time when political speech has gotten much more violent, political assassinations have not increased," said commentator David Brooks on the PBS NewsHour the other night. There seems to be no strong science that tells us differently. Along with just about everyone else, I think political discussion should be civilized -- please, no more e-mails wishing me death -- but I am hardly against rambunctious, lively, passionate discourse that will only disappear when the democracy has disappeared. No one should try to further that day by the pretense that something terribly awful and terribly sad was a consequence of people simply saying forcefully what they believed. Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado and a Centennial Institute Fellow. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay@aol.com.
('76 Contributor) As the latest Wikileaks saga unfolded I couldn't help but recall the scene in the film Sneakers where Martin "Marty" Bishop (Robert Redford) and Cosmo (Ben Kingsley) discuss the "code breaker.”
Cosmo: There's a war out there, old friend. A world war. And it's not about who's got the most bullets. It's about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think... it's all about the information! [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKprr3tEBew]
There is another scene in the movie where Marty utters the phrase "no more secrets." And that is increasingly what we are approaching as the global pseudo-anarchist organization Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange wage their own private war against the United States and its allies.
By their own deeds and actions this band of internet information warriors have taken it upon themselves to enact that creed of “no more secrets” and have set about to deliberately undermine the US government as well as a large number of other organizations, corporations, and even individuals. When it comes to the United States of America, this is what happens when people begin to believe their own propaganda that those who dare to confront and militarily engage rogue regimes, mass murderers, and blood-splattered Islamic barbarians are somehow evil and worthy of defeat. It is a twisted view of the world that defends genocidal regimes like that of the Husseins or the fundamentalist berserkers who seek to re-establish the caliphate and offer the infidel West the three choices submission, conversion, or death. All while viewing those who oppose such monsters as worthy of humiliation and defeat.
"On Sunday 28th November 2010, Wikileaks began publishing 251,287 leaked United States embassy cables, the largest set of confidential documents ever to be released into the public domain. The documents will give people around the world an unprecedented insight into the US Government's foreign activities." (Wikileaks homepage)
“WikiLeaks has released more classified intelligence documents than the rest of the world press combined.” (Wikileaks homepage)
Many in academia and the media have tried to defend Wikileaks as a journalistic organization merely engaging in “freedom of speech.” To obscure the truth of what has occurred by attempting to hide behind the skirts of legitimate newsgathering is pathetic and a poor excuse at best. Someone who purposely solicits and then publishes stolen secrets is no more a journalist than the street thug who pushes stolen goods is a legitimate and valued entrepreneur. Wikileaks does little more than engage in subversion of all it decides is unfit and wage full-scale, cyber warfare against all those who dare to oppose its efforts.
They may call themselves "journalists" but they have an agenda and political motives. This makes them not members of the media, but subversives waging a war of information obtained through espionage and the utilization of traitors to purposefully harm a country. One may agree or disagree with their goals, but let's define them for what they really are instead of trying to pretend they are no different than the editor of a small town newspaper.
Assange and Wikileaks have no problem with harming innocent people by their behavior “collateral damage, if you will” and though they proclaim to have a “harm-minimization policy,” they have published what amounts to death sentences for over a hundred US Afghan allies.
I may be a conservative who believes in limited and constitutional government, but I still believe in government. I also believe that my government’s ability to strategize, for example, about the fall of North Korea and engage in private conversations with Chinese officials about such possibilities does not need to be posted on every blog on the net for the psychotic paranoids running North Korea to read. Believe it or not, there are some secrets we don't all need to know about. But thanks to Wikileaks, we do.
We cannot be sure who Julian Assange thinks he really is. Spartacus leading slaves in revolt against their masters? An Alexander the Great conquering cyberspace? Napolean defeating his enemies on the newest field of battle? A Lenin leading the proletariat to defeat the bourgeoisie?
Or perhaps just a glorified hacker and his worshipful, anarchistic cabal waging their own private war against all forms of authority and capitalism?
“With its anonymous drop box, WikiLeaks provides an avenue for every government official, every bureaucrat, and every corporate worker, who becomes privy to damning information that their institution wants to hide but the public needs to know. What conscience cannot contain, and institutional secrecy unjustly conceals, WikiLeaks can broadcast to the world.” (Wikipedia homepage)
We are currently witnessing the wholesale dumping of over 250,000 classified State Department cables onto the web with apparently very little discretion at all. Just dumping raw information no matter what it is, is hardly heroic. And it is certainly not revealing ‘damning information’ that the ‘public needs to know.’ Quite the contrary, in fact. The idea that the whole world needs to be privy of every private conversation a diplomat partakes in is utterly ridiculous and illogical. It makes no sense. The concept that a world with no privacy, and no secrets, is necessarily a better one is a significant gamble based on theory, not fact. Some would even say fantasy.
This is a form of warfare. Some see it as a war for freedom of the press, but it is really a war of sabotage, espionage, compromise, and betrayal. There is no justice or honor in that.
There are secrets that should be made public, and some things public that should be secret, but it certainly should not be up to Julian Assange and the malcontents of Wikileaks to cast themselves as the ultimate god-of-information and make those decisions for the rest of us.
The problem is probably less about the secrets that have been revealed (though Yemen, Saudi Arabia etc. are not very happy about it at all) but that absolutely no one can trust that anything they ever say in confidence to an American diplomat in the future won’t be splashed across the Internet by some vengeful, arrogant Aussie. And therein lies the evil of Wikileaks. No more secrets means no more trust, no more honesty, and no more candor. And that makes for a more dangerous world.
David Huntwork is a conservative activist and independent columnist in Northern Colorado, where he lives with his wife and three daughters. You may view his bio and past columns at http://DavidHuntwork.tripod.com. Contact him at Davehuntwork@juno.com.
(Centennial Institute Fellow) National Public Radio has fired Juan Williams, and first off, the people who did the firing should get fired if they don't hire him back, and next, the federal government should yank all its funding from the outfit.
This firing is political correctness gone bananas, a blatant, in-your-face, cowardly, utterly mindless assault on free speech coming not from a private entity that has to earn its way in a competitive world, but from a public, government-financed organization whose money comes largely from taxation. Even though NPR does first-class journalism, it is suddenly waging a war on words that were unexceptional, and given its special obligations, that is unacceptable.
Some background is in order.
Bill O'Reilly of Fox TV was on ABC's "The View," said it was Muslims who crashed planes into the World Trade Center on 9/11 and that this was reason not to build a mosque nearby. In protest, two of the show's denizens -- Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg -- strode huffily off the set. Since then, O'Reilly has devoted major time on several of his own shows to self-exoneration, emphasizing the literal truth of what he said and then contending on the one hand that he did not mean to demonize all Muslims while arguing on the other that millions of Muslims are self-declared enemies of America.
Enter Williams, a news analyst with NPR who is also a liberal regular on various Fox shows. Generally outnumbered by conservatives, he calmly, charmingly argues his points. I've seen him numerous times, and though I usually disagree, he has earned my respect. He did again the other night as he managed to squeeze in a few words during an O'Reilly rant, observing once that you'd never condemn all Christians because homegrown terrorist Timothy McVeigh was so identified.
He also said this: "I mean, look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they're identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."
Then the Council on American-Islamic Relations said Williams seemed to believe all Muslims could be considered security risks and NPR said Williams' remarks were "inconsistent with our editorial stands." I say why don't you all try to be responsible, thoughtful, fair and open-minded adults, no matter how that conflicts with paranoia or editorial stands.
The fact is that Muslim terrorists have done terrible things on airplanes and are still slaughtering innocent Western humanitarians in Afghanistan. It's perfectly normal for people who know that a disastrous "B" has sometimes followed the appearance of "A" in a certain setting to then act disconcertedly when they see "A" in that same setting. To admit as much is not to be prejudiced or to say that "B" always follows "A," but to help explain emotions, to move the conversation to new, productive possibilities.
But these are days during which you are only supposed to say one obvious truth concerning any Muslim, namely that most are perfectly decent human beings.
If a smooth-talking New York imam repeats the fiction of Americans killing a half million Iraqi children, says we were accessories to 9/11 and warns of Islamic retaliation if a mosque is not built near Ground Zero, we are supposed to applaud his purposes. If Muslim terrorists threaten to kill possible satirists, we aren't supposed to make a big deal of one going into hiding. When Muslims threaten wholesale slaughter of Americans if a truly misguided pastor burns Korans, we are supposed to see how understandable that reaction is.
And if a TV commentator says something perfectly innocent with the word "Muslim" attached, someone is supposed to come up with a Little League version of the Netherlands trial of a politician for hate speech against Muslims. Or at least that's what NPR did, thereby earning a right to do what most radio organizations do, strive for audience and survival advertising in a free market.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and editor of dailies in El Paso and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at speaktojay(at)aol.com.)
That National Public Radio fired liberal commentator Juan Williams this week for publicly expressing on the Fox News Channel his anxieties about Muslims in America is appalling, but not surprising. NPR has long been hostile to the views of evangelical Christians and conservatives. Now, apparently, they are even hostile towards liberals who express personal sentiments on a conservative TV program. But the dustup is important not simply because it exposed once again the left-wing bias of NPR and demonstrated yet again why the network should not receive a dime of public funding. It was important because of the chilling implications over free speech in this country. Are we really not allowed to say in a post-9/11 world that Muslims traveling on planes make some Americans uneasy? What else are we not allowed to say? Should we not discuss the threat of Radical Muslims to Judeo-Christian civilization? Are we not allowed to express our concerns about what would happen if Radical Muslims acquired nuclear, chemical or biological weapons? What happened to free speech in this country? The vast majority of Muslims in the U.S. and around the world (upwards of 90 to 93 percent) are moderate, peaceful people. They don't believe in jihad. They are not suicide bombers or terrorists. They want good jobs, good schools for their kids, and the right to practice their faith without persecution or government interference. But there is a small but important percentage of Muslims that are highly dangerous. They believe that Islam is the answer, and violent jihad is the way. Americans need to talk about both groups. We need to learn about and discuss the differences. We need to understand who the Radicals are, and who the Reformers are. At the same time, we need to understand that there is a subset of Radical Muslims who are even more dangerous. They don't simply want to terrorize us; they want to annihilate us. Chief among them are the "Twelvers," a Shia Muslim cult who believe that end of the world is at hand, that the Islamic messiah known as the "Twelfth Imam" is coming to earth at any moment, and that the way to hasten the arrival of the Twelfth Imam is to annihilate two countries - Israel, which they call the "Little Satan," and the United States, which they call the "Great Satan." What makes these Twelvers especially dangerous right now is that they are running the current government of Iran. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is a Twelver, and says he actually met with the Twelfth Imam last July. Iranian President Ahmadinejad is a lifelong Twelver, and is actively seeking to build nuclear weapons. Both have publicly called for the annihilation of the U.S. and Israel, and they are doing so for expressly religious purposes. The world is doing precious little to stop such men. The Obama administration certainly isn't taking decisive action to stop Iran from getting the Bomb. So every day the danger grows that the Twelvers will get nuclear weapons and either use them against Israel, and then the U.S., or give those weapons to terrorist groups who will seek to obliterate their enemies. Now is precisely the time to talk about such things. Now is precisely the time to talk as Americans about our anxieties and our fears. This is why I wrote a new political thriller entitled, The Twelfth Imam, to help foster such a national conversation and to take people inside the story and to help them imagine what might happen if the world ignores the threat posed by the leaders of Iran. NPR apparently wants to silence Americans who are concerned about the threat of Radical Islam. Thankfully, there are a multitude of other media outlets who permit a national conversation about Radical Islam to take place. Such a conversation is, after all, more needed than ever. [For more, and the latest headlines from the Middle East, please go to Joel Rosenberg's weblog -- http://flashtrafficblog.wordpress.com/]
(CCU Faculty) Nick Cohen of The Guardian bemoans the “seduction” of left-wing academics by Islamic radicalism. Professors who disparage, ridicule, and condemn every Jewish and Christian expression of spirituality can’t find it in their hearts or heads to utter a single word of criticism of jihadists who use their religion to justify suicide bombers, the murder of children, and death sentences for all who disagree with them, observes Cohen with some puzzlement.
My modesty fails me so I will explain to Mr. Cohen European and American academic hypocrisy when it comes to radical Islam. Why won’t they stand up to the jihadists?
First, the academic Left share the Islamists hatred of western culture. Freedom of religion, individualism, free market capitalism, technological innovation, and a host of other western characteristics are despised by jihadist and professor alike. In spending every day for twenty-five years with left-wing academics I can honestly say I never heard a single positive word about America, our free institutions, the wealth generated by our free market, our military, our foreign policy, or our Christian heritage. Left-wing academics do not condemn radical Islam on these issues because they are in full agreement.
Second, the Left’s fantasizes that history is one long melodrama composed of villains, innocent victims, and the “vanguard” elite who save the innocent. And today’s Left has decided that the jihadists and the Palestinians are the oppressed, the United States and Israel are the oppressor, and that it is the responsibility of the Left to condemn the latter. All manner of moral equivocation goes into justifying every jihadist atrocity. This melodramatic narrative gives meaning and purpose and, yes, a religion of sorts to those who have none.
Third, the Left has no moral courage. Mark Steyn rightly observes that the Hollywood Left routinely disparages Christians but leaves radical Muslims alone for the simple reason the former won’t firebomb your house. Even an atheist like Ayaan Hirsi Ali recognizes only Christianity will be able to counter a force as powerful as Islam. Modern secular Leftists will never lay down life and limb even to defend a journalist on the run like Molly Norris. Meanwhile, Christians lay down their lives to minister to Muslims while reaching them for Christ.
I hope this helps Mr. Cohen. If nothing else, if he should take a stand against Islamist atrocities and find himself under a fatwa he will know who will help him. And who won’t.
(CCU Faculty) As a professor of European history, I often travel to where tolerance supposedly reigns supreme. Many Europeans consider Americans to be very intolerant. During my last visit to Britain, while in the social hall of an Anglican parish, I endured over an hour long tirade on how ignorant and intolerant Americans were. The speaker was Laurence, a leftwing intellectual and lay leader of the parish, who decried Americans protesting against the mosque at ground zero. I found his arrogance extremely hard to tolerate, as he lumped all Americans together as ignorant bigoted tea partiers, who supported Sarah Palin, whom he equated with Adolph Hitler.
How much should we tolerate? Should I have tolerated Laurence’s tirade? I did. Should we tolerate the mosque at ground zero? I would. But how much do those supposedly tolerant people tolerate me? Do they tolerate those who smoke, those who wear fur, or those who voice their opinions on whether a mosque should be built at ground zero?
As a graduate student at the University of California, a seminal work in my doctoral research on toleration in late 17th century England was John Locke’s Letter on Toleration. A key quote from that book is Locke’s declaration that “Every man is orthodox in his own eyes.” Laurence is convinced that he is right, the protestors at ground zero are convinced they are right, and the Muslims wanting to build that mosque at ground zero are convinced they are right. Locke concluded, that the government has no right to persecute those who follow the dictates of their own conscience, but he never advocated that individuals be forced to abandon the dictates of their conscience, or deny others their right to peacefully criticize what they find objectionable.
At an interfaith gathering in a “progressive” church here in Colorado the topic was toleration. To the best of my knowledge I was the only conservative in attendance. At my table sat a Sufi Muslim, a new age guru, an openly lesbian clergywoman, and a DU professor of religion. The professor declared that toleration was insufficient. What was needed, he advocated, was something greater…affirmation. It wasn’t enough merely to tolerate another person’s aberration, we must affirm it. Those who refused to affirm the aberrant idea or behavior were considered intolerant. I responded, that I preferred the word “toleration”, for to affirm every aberration may violate certain values which I held. He was clearly uncomfortable with the fact that I even had values, at least any values that would not allow me to affirm the aberrant views of others.
I continue to prefer toleration to affirmation. I can put up with things with which I disagree, yet still wish to maintain my own values. However, when forced to affirm what violates my values, I lose my freedom to hold those values. Surely the value of freedom trumps toleration or even affirmation. I will allow others the freedom to be aberrant, but they must allow me the freedom to disagree. How ironic it would be for us to impose tyranny in the name of toleration.
(Scripps Howard Syndicate, Sept. 23) There’s an old saying that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but that’s too simple and wise for the Obama administration, which is readying bureaucratic tools for massive work on the nation’s private, non-profit colleges and universities.
And what’s wrong with them? Nothing. Certainly nothing that requires this abomination the Education Department has in mind, a long-winded, frequently unclear new set of regulations that would intensify and increase oversight by states, in some cases conceivably overriding a long-established, thorough, fair, respected and effective accrediting process by non-governmental agencies.
The possible consequences are enormous, including a frightening assault on academic freedom as crucial decisions are transferred from faculty and administrators to bureaucrats and legislative bosses who just might use weapons of mass authority to demolish instruction of a kind they don’t like.
The excuse meanwhile is small potatoes. Some for-profit schools are accused of taking federal aid money from students in exchange for teaching them nothing much. That’s obviously bad to the extent it’s true, but the schools are few in number compared to the thousands of private, non-profit institutions that would be affected by a revised scheme of things, and there are remedies far short of federal intrusiveness. States can crack down on violations of law and cheated students can lodge civil suits.
You suppose any of this Education Department folderol scares anybody? You bet it does. Look at an Internet piece by Inside Higher Ed and you find the president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation worrying that the proposal “fundamentally undermines the role of accreditation” and that the suggested rules “call for states to intrude into academic areas.” Then there’s the American Council for Education, which has expressed concern about compliance costs, ambiguities and the invitation for political shenanigans. Look, too, at Colorado Christian University, with which I have an uncompensated association.
In a policy brief for the school’s Centennial Institute, Krista Kafer has treated the threats in scholarly detail, and the university’s president, former U.S. Senator Bill Armstrong, has written about his concerns in pieces I have turned to as well for my own understanding. I asked him if he feared the university could be especially at risk under the new rules, seeing as how it does not bow to some of the leftist orthodoxies preached at so many other schools. His answer was yes.
What strikes me (and Armstrong, too) is that the move is more of the same. The Obama administration does not much trust liberty. If something out there sneezes, regulate it. Surround it with endless pages of rules, blankets and blankets of rules, enough rules to smother the slightest hope of autonomy. Do more if necessary. Take over things. Take over health care. Take over the auto industry. Take over financial institutions. Government knows all. Government should do all. Government, we praise thee!
Something especially precious is at stake here. As Kafer has written, independent colleges and universities have created “a space for learning, exploration and debate that reaches far beyond students and the campus itself,” performing a role that along with the activities of various other organizations provides “the foundation upon which rests the nation’s marketplace of ideas.”
The Education Department’s own public explanation of what it’s up to makes it sound oh-so reasonable, just a way of protecting public money and consumers, and maybe the worst possibilities would never occur, at least if we get precise, corrective language where vagueness and power urges now reign supreme.
But why even take a chance in a process moving toward conclusion in November? Why not scotch the whole pernicious, pointless exercise or at least that part of it calling for state overreach? And if the bureaucrats won’t humbly retreat, admitting they just might otherwise break what’s now unbroken, maybe Congress will step in. Please.
('76 Contributor) Father Michael J. Sheeran, S.J., is well aware of me and my personal conservative activism on the Regis University campus. When the university’s president arrived at my table, where my family and I were seated, at the Family Weekend breakfast in September, he looked down at me, shook my hand and joke, “So, what evil are you up to today, Jimmy?”
With many campus presidents, that might be a signal of the kiss of death. But at Regis, that’s not the case at all. In fact, this humorous greeting was playfully done with a smile on Father Sheeran’s face, demonstrating the humor and lack of sincerity in the question. I cannot say for certain where he stands politically, but I do know where his institution lies when it comes to academic freedom: 100% behind it.
I recently watched the film Indoctrinate U, an excellent, insightful documentary about the extreme left-wing, liberal bias on college campuses in America. The film explores the common practice amongst universities and colleges across the country—the so-called “safe-havens” of academic freedom—to shun or disadvantage expressions of conservative views on campus. This includes professors, students, faculty and staff.
Wikipedia defines academic freedom as “the belief that the freedom of inquiry by students…is essential to the mission of the academy, and that scholars should have freedom to teach or communicate ideas or facts…without being targeted for repression, job loss or imprisonment.”
While there is, as most students seem to agree, a decidedly liberal slant amongst Regis faculty (a tendency for universities throughout the country), when it comes to student expression of views, Regis deserves a great deal of praise and credit for standing true to this doctrine and following through with the principles therein. In doing so, they permit various views on political and religious issues to be expressed, including conservative perspectives, which are often discriminated against on the college campus.
I would like to cite my own personal experiences in my first two years here to underscore this, specifically my position on Regis’s Highlander student newspaper, the weekly radio talkshow I host (“Seng Center”) and my status as President of the Regis College Republicans.
First, with regard to the Highlander, I take pride in helping preside over a paper that welcomes the views of all students, regardless of ideology or viewpoint, to join the staff or submit letters to the editor. If you’ve been reading the paper and have noticed my consistent array of conservative-leaning articles over the last year, rest assured that this is not because I have brought some “right-wing bias” to the Highlander. It is because I choose most frequently to publish perspectives pieces, just as others have their favored sections.
Anyone can do it, and I strongly encourage more students and faculty alike to take advantage of the chance to submit articles of their own on virtually any issue, political or otherwise, when the paper reboots next semester.
But the critical point with the Highlander is this: Oftentimes, many conservative students are passed over from publishing political opinion pieces on an edition-by-edition basis due to their ideological standpoint; moreover, I have heard stories about quiet discrimination against conservatives in leadership positions at other colleges, or about students’ difficulty in distributing papers on campus, even though the publication follows the rules (such as a recent Auraria campus case).
Not only have I not encountered any problems with expressing my views on issues here at Regis—no one else has, either. At least, not since I’ve been here. This goes for all political persuasions—liberal, conservative and otherwise.
Then there’s my weekly radio show, Seng Center. Anyone who walks outside on the Quad between the hours of 6 and 8 on Thursday nights can’t without hearing, for better or worse, my loud voice blaring across the Quad, talking about politics from a clearly conservative perspective, with such guests as Republican U.S. Congressman Mike Coffman and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff.
Moreover, it is the only radio show of its kind on Regis’s KRCX radio station (and in Colorado, to my knowledge), and it streams online as well. Thus, it indirectly but indiscretely represents Regis.
Easily I could be censored, as happens on many colleges, to present a certain “preferred image.” I could be denied the program because of some sense for an arbitrary need for greater “balance” (a sort-of “fairness doctrine” on campus) or restricted on what topics I can talk about, who I can bring on to the show, etc.
But I’m not. As long as the things I say and do on the program are appropriate—or, shall we say, “Father Sheeran Approved”—everything’s a-okay, lest activities director Dave Law sick Chuck Norris on me. (God have mercy on my soul if that happens!)
Besides, just like with the Highlander, every student has an equal opportunity to share their views on subjects ranging from religion to politics to anything else. When a single complaint came in about my show, I was readily defended by the powers-that-be for that very reason—just as I should have been, under the principles of academic freedom.
College Republicans on campuses across the nation consistently face discrimination, and many have to jump through hoops for representation at club fairs, access to rooms on campus and other considerations.
Here at Regis, not only do the College Republicans feel confident in their ability as a club to freely carry out activities and host events—like the one first semester with radio talkshow host Mike Rosen and this semester with ex-jihadist Dr. Tawfik Hamid—but we are given the utmost support and assistance by student activities, RUSGA and the college at large. Every time help is needed or a question requires an answer, we got it with no problems or hesitations. Regrettably, many Republican clubs don’t get that.
When I talk to most reasonable-minded people about this, they rightly reply, “Well, of course. Why shouldn’t Regis allow students to speak their mind, irrespective of their ideology?”
I can’t disagree with the implications of that statement at all; every college campus should be open to such ideas. But when you talk to conservative and Republican students at many other colleges in America, and when you talk to conservative college graduates (who think of CU’s leftist ex-professor Ward Churchill), it really does matter a good deal.
To them, Regis is a diamond in the rough—and that’s exactly why I think the university deserves much credit for truly standing behind the idea of “academic freedom.”
No matter what your political or religious persuasion, you’re welcome here at Regis. And even more importantly, you’re welcome to express those views however you wish, so long as you do so respectfully and with the kind of analytical thought prescribed by a Jesuit education.
So the next time a certain Jesuit priest asks what evil you’re up to, just reply, “No evil, Father. I’m just exercising my academic freedom.” And for that, Regis is, to its credit, ahead of the pack.