Free speech

]           I think it goes without saying that I agree with almost nothing Ann Coulter says. But I will march shoulder to shoulder with her in defending her right to say it. We currently have an administration in Washington that seems determined to undermine so much of what most Americans hold valuable, be it the separation of powers or the distaste for nepotism. If we lose our right to free speech, we will truly lose ourselves as a nation and deserve to be relegated to the trash heap of history.

Free speech is the cornerstone of all we stand for. And by that I mean true free speech. Aside from some commonsense rules like not yelling fire in a crowded theater or advocating assassinations, our right to express how we feel about any given topic is much too precious to allow to slip away.

Ann Coulter should have spoken at Berkely. She should have spoken at an approved on campus venue and the powers that be should have taken whatever steps were needed to ensure her safety. It’s that simple. If they needed to ask for help from local or state law enforcement to ensure her safety, then they should have done that. What they shouldn’t have done is tuck their tails between their legs and run the other way in the face of opposition to her speech. That’s the antitheses of what any institution of higher education should do. If we are not safe debating ideas in an academic setting with participants who have cogent arguments that go beyond name calling, then we will never again have a civil debate in our country. And if we totally lose the ability to have civil discussions of differences, then we lose our country.

Our country is currently engulfed in a moment of rage, with each side lining up to outshout the other side. This anger often is expressed in screaming town hall meetings where elected officials run from the rage of their constituents hoping to find comfort in the safe arms of their sponsors. But that solves nothing and only tends to widen the gap. No understanding of the other’s position results from name calling and shouting unless there are some cogent arguments aired after the chaos dies down.

And I am fully aware that I am one of those prone to name calling because, quite frankly, I’ll never be able to acknowledge the person currently occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as my president. But my mother raised me to have a certain level of courtesy and respect for others and that means I would not go listen to an Ann Coulter with the express purpose of shouting her down. My college professors would tell me to let her make her point and then be prepared to rebut it with facts and reasoning. Maybe, just maybe, that might allow for productive dialog. And if not, it might at least persuade some listening to the debate that your side has credibility.

You want to protest a speech from someone with whom you passionately disagree, then fill the audience with likeminded people and challenge every concept proposed. You want to protest a speech by the opposition, then stand up and silently turn your back on them. You want to protest a speaker whose ideas you find abhorrent, then come prepared to tear a hole in their argument with facts and figures, not with anger and chants that are basically meaningless and do nothing to take apart the point they might be making.

If we lose our free speech, we lose everything. And that means allowing everyone from all walks of life to have that freedom. Hate neo-Nazis, hate racism, hate misogyny? Then go to where it is being preached and make your voices heard in opposition to the ideas they are propounding. Make a great noise. Hold counter demonstrations. Invite your own speakers to give alternate points of view. But do not stop that person from talking because if you do, then the next time it might be you and your arguments that are silenced.

Not listening to the opposition is not acceptable if only because you can’t combat ideas you don’t know or understand. Knowing and understanding where someone is coming from with their ideas is not the same as accepting them. But it is the first step towards combating them. Combating the unknown is nothing more than swinging your arms wildly in the dark hoping to accidentally hit the enemy.

Know the opposition. Know the enemy. And then come out swinging with the best arguments you can make for your perspective. But don’t silence them. That’s simply not the American way.