Throughout history, the greatest threat to free speech has always been authoritarian governments seeking to suppress dissent. That is still true today, even in America. Thankfully, a robust First Amendment has proved a necessary and valuable bulwark against censorious government autocrats. Historically, those on the political Left have proven to be some of the fiercest defenders of broad speech protections. Not so today. To be sure, many on the political Left still pay lip service to the notion of a strong First Amendment. But far too often, they do so while actively promoting ideologies that ultimately render those protections worthless.
The ongoing debate over males participating in female sports is a prime example. Radical activists regularly shout down and physically assault anyone who dares to assert that men should not compete in women’s sports. The typical response from many leftists is to ignore the criminals committing violent acts against peaceful speakers. Instead, they blame the victim. They do so by advancing a noxious idea: the right to free speech does not protect anyone from the consequences of that speech. In other words, if someone does not like what you have to say, they have the right to punch you in the face, physically disrupt and shut down your speech, or chase you out of the room and restrain you in a room for hours while waiting for police protection.
This was the prevailing liberal response to a recent event held at the Mary L. Stevens Branch of the Yolo County Library. On August 20, Moms for Liberty – Yolo County, CA organized an event entitled “Forum for Fair and Safe Sport for Girls.” The event was scheduled to feature various speakers including Kim Jones, co-founder of Independent Council on Women’s Sports; Sophia Lorey, Outreach Coordinator at California Family Council and former collegiate athlete; Erin Friday, co-lead of Western Region of Our Duty-USA; and Allie Snyder, concerned mother and women’s rights advocate.
Unfortunately, a library official shut down the event almost immediately. Why? Because one of the speakers used the phrase “men in women’s sports.” According to the official, California law prohibits use of the term “men” when referring to men who identify as women.
After video of the library shutting down the event was shared on social media, the library allegedly received three separate bomb threats. The organizers of the event issued a statement denouncing the threats. They made clear that violence is never an appropriate response to speech you disagree with.
In response to this situation, the Sacramento Bee published an op-ed. The writer agreed that the organizers engaged in protected speech and that the library likely violated their First Amendment rights. Nevertheless, the writer asserted that the event organizers are responsible for the threats. How? Because the views espoused by the organizers are also allegedly held by the perpetrators of the bomb threats.
This is nonsensical. First, it is unfair to assume that the threats were made by someone sympathetic to the event. More importantly, no one is responsible (legally or morally) for another person’s unlawful actions simply because they may share similar views on certain topics. If this were true, Martin Luther King, Jr. would be responsible for all the violent acts of the Black Panther Party. That’s a ridiculous notion. But those advancing this argument are not worried about logic or reason. Regardless of their high-sounding rhetoric, their goal is the same as every other autocrat: shut down all dissent through whatever means necessary. Here, they conflate speech with violence in an attempt to shut down one side of the debate.
Our country’s history is rife with debates on all manner of controversial topics including slavery, women’s suffrage, prohibition, and numerous wars. Many on both sides of these debates undoubtedly advanced arguments that were offensive to the other side. Yet, we trusted previous generations to have the intelligence and strength of character to evaluate the merits of these crucial debates without claiming the other side’s speech was equivalent to violence.
I believe our country is better for having gone through the slow and painful process of debating controversial topics involving competing deeply held beliefs.
The same holds true for our current debates on essential topics such as immigration, climate change, abortion, freedom of speech, religious freedom, and gender identity. The outcome of these debates has the potential to significantly affect the life of every American, either for good or for ill. Exercising the God-given right to participate in these great debates is at the heart of what it means to be an American.