Attorney General Demands Respect for Free Speechat Universities
Published : September 28, 2017
Speaking at Georgetown Law's Center for the Constitution, Sessions began by reminding the students of how precious the rights to free speech and free expression really are. “In most societies throughout history and in so many that I have had the opportunity to visit, such rights do not exist,” the federal government's top law enforcement officer explained. “In these places, openly criticizing the government or expressing unorthodox opinions could land you in jail or worse.”
Trump's attorney general, one of the president's earliest and staunchest supporters, went on to describe a horrifying incident in which students were arrested merely for peacefully handing out documents designed to help secure God-given rights. But the saga Sessions recounted did not happen in North Korea, China, Venezuela, or Cuba. Instead, it happened at a government-funded college in Michigan last year.
“Freedom of thought and speech on the American campus are under attack,” Sessions explained, adding that U.S. universities were increasingly “transforming into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogenous thought, a shelter for fragile egos.” Indeed, almost half of American colleges have speech codes that “substantially infringe on constitutionally protected speech,” he added.
Many of those ban “offensive” speech. And many of those schools use tax dollars to enforce their illegal speech codes. Others have “free speech zones” where authorities seek to corral anyone with something conservative or Christian to say. And some allow violent leftists who make threats to exercise a “heckler's veto” over who may speak.
But to Sessions — and according to American traditions of protecting God-given rights to free expression — that must end. “In this great land, the government does not get to tell you what to think or what to say,” the attorney general said. In fact, the laws and the Constitution of the United States require that free speech rights be respected, at least at tax-funded institutions.
But there are other reasons why everyone should be concerned about the emerging totalitarian climate on campuses. “The right to freely examine the moral and the immoral, the prudent and the foolish, the practical and the inefficient, and the right to argue for their merits or demerits remain indispensable for a healthy republic,” Sessions said. “This has been known since the beginning of our nation.”
Indeed, James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution,” in protesting the Alien and Sedition Acts, noted that freedom of speech is “the only effectual guardian of every other right.” Thomas Jefferson, meanwhile, declared on his memorial: “I swear upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
It is past time, Sessions said, for a “national recommitment to free speech on campus.” Action to protect First Amendment rights is overdue, too, he said. And so, under his leadership, the Department of Justice plans to vigorously defend free speech rights across America — and especially on college campuses.
Unfortunately, the totalitarian and Orwellian climate on America's college campuses did not occur in a vacuum. It came about through the deliberate designs of forces that are hostile not just to free speech, but to everything Americans hold dear. These forces hold power in institutions across America. But if Sessions' speech is anything to go by, the counter-attack may be starting soon.