By Dave Ficere
The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights prohibits the government from infringing upon free speech and the free exercise of religion. In their wisdom, the Founding Fathers realized that these freedoms formed the basis of the new country as it declared its independence from British rule.
Yet, despite the constitutional guarantees, these freedoms are under assault on America’s college campuses and throughout Western society, including Canada. More on the latter, later…
Recently, a subcommittee of the House Committee of the Judiciary held a hearing regarding speech-restrictive policies on America’s college campuses. The hearing came as a result of a 2015 report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) entitled, “The state of free speech on our nation’s campuses.”
For their report, FIRE surveyed 437 schools and found that more than 55 percent maintain severely restrictive, “red light” speech codes, which they described as “policies that clearly and substantially prohibit protected speech.” Although the report said the figure had declined from 58.6 percent last year, FIRE says they “continue to see an unacceptable number of universities punishing students and faculty members for constitutionally protected speech and expression. It is essential that students, faculty, and free speech advocates remain vigilant not only about campus speech codes but also about the way universities may—even in the absence of a policy that is unconstitutional as written—silence or punish protected speech.”
What can be done about the problem of censorship on campus, FIRE asks? They suggest public pressure as “still perhaps the most powerful weapon against campus censorship,” so it is critical that students and faculty understand and be willing to stand up for their rights when those rights are threatened.
Of course, Christians would argue that prayer is the most powerful weapon, asking God to change the hearts of the rulers (Pr. 21:1) in their judgments.
But the problem of censorship and speech codes isn’t just limited to college campuses. The growing debate over the future of free speech is center stage in one Canadian province, where the Quebec Parliament is currently debating whether to pass Bill 59, a measure that would grant the Quebec Human Rights Commission (QHRC) the authority to investigate so-called “hate speech,” even if no complaint has been filed.
According to Canada’s National Post, the head of the QHRC, Jacques Frémont has already openly said that he plans to use such powers, “to sue those critical of certain ideas, ‘people who would write against … the Islamic religion … on a website or on a Facebook page.’”
Townhall.com columnist Kyle Shideler writes, “if the QHRC is successful in its gambit, similar efforts are guaranteed to spring up elsewhere, including in the United States.”
As Deborah Weiss documents in The Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s Jihad on Free Speech, Shideler continues, “the United States Department of State has played an outsized role in facilitating efforts by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to encourage governments worldwide to impose criminal penalties for what the OIC considers blasphemy against Islam.”
Weiss also asserts that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “asserted that the U.S. would not push for the enactment of speech-restrictive laws (at least for the time being) and extolled the virtues of free speech. But she also proclaimed that the U.S. advocates for other measures to achieve the same results. Those other measures included interfaith dialogue and the use of ‘good old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming.’”
“It is not a great jump from ‘peer pressure and shaming’ to implementing fines of up to $10,000, as the QHRC will be empowered to do under Bill 59,” Shideler concludes. “For this reason, free speech defenders, not just in Canada but also around the world, should rightly be concerned, and raise their voices in opposition to Quebec’s proposed bill and similar restrictions wherever they are proposed.”
Whether it is restricting free speech in Canada or on American college campuses, lovers of freedom should exercise their rights by contacting their representatives and speaking up for free speech. And – above all – pray:
— For those in charge of the nation’s college campuses, which the U.S. Supreme Court once called “vital centers for the Nation’s intellectual life.”
— For government leaders in both the U.S. and Canada as they come under pressure to enact speech codes.
— That freedom of speech and expression – as guaranteed by the First Amendment – will continue to reign in the U.S., Canada and other freedom-loving nations.
Originally published September 13, 2015, by the Presidential Prayer Team. Reprinted here by permission.