Ten years ago the Stephenville City Council was discussing who could do what in our city park, and somebody asked me if I thought the Ku Klux Klan should be allowed to have a picnic there. I said we should not discriminate against the Klan simply because we disapprove of its ideology, and as long as its conduct was legal it should have the same access as any other group to city facilities.
My comments prompted someone to write to the local “newspaper” to imply I had Klan connections and announce she would never vote for me again (the line forms on the right). For some reason, the “newspaper” published my response, in the form of a letter to the editor, wherein I argued that to discriminate against an unpopular group would set a bad precedent by which those with the right connections could use the government to suppress the freedoms of whomever they wanted, whether it be the Ku Klux Klan, the NAACP, the Democrats, the Republicans, the Committee to Vote Me Off the Council, or any other person or organization one could think of.
I’ve been thinking of that incident lately, at least since I wrote a few weeks ago how both Clinton and Trump are enemies of free speech: Hillary would suppress it by limiting how much money could be spent on political messages, and Trump would make it easier to threaten the media with libel suits, thereby frightening many outlets into silence.
But while Clinton and Trump are currently the most obvious threats to freedom of speech, they are by no means alone. All too often we tolerate its suppression. The danger here is that the more we oppress freedom of speech, the easier it becomes to do so.
Currently the biggest threats to freedom of speech come from the left, on college campuses, where politically correct administrators and other activists will try to limit the exercise of free speech to a few areas on campuses, while otherwise creating “safe spaces” for overly sensitive crybabies and limiting what can be said to avoid hurting people’s feelings and preventing “microaggressions.” Check out https://www.buzzfeed.com/hnigatu/racial-microagressions-you-hear-on-a-daily-basis?utm_term=.cv1YoeYe8#.teMoMLoLd for some of the more looney examples of phrases students are discouraged, if not prohibited, from saying.
This sort of lunacy has not yet reached Tarleton, but I regret to say sometimes folks at my end of the political spectrum can still be pretty bad. For example, A few years ago religious zealots scared Tarleton’s administration into banning the public performance of scenes from “Corpus Christie,” a play about a gay Jesus. More recently, a member of the “Secular Student Alliance,” an on-campus student group advocating the use of more logic and less faith in decision making, and more willingness to accept personal responsibility for one’s actions rather than blaming everything on God, reported that posters announcing its activities and beliefs were repeatedly disappearing. What those who share my conservative Christian views are evidently forgetting is that to suppress the beliefs of those with whom one disagrees is to invite retaliation and persecution as well.
But there are some signs of rationality and civility as well. Students at Tarleton recently held a peaceful protest demonstration supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Whether one agrees with BLM’s message, one must acknowledge both the right of Tarleton students to support it and the responsible and respectful way they did so.
By the way, a year after the City Council debated the rights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Klan actually did come to Stephenville to hold a rally. I played no role other than, along with other council members, to review and approve the plans of the Stephenville Police Department to keep the rally safe. However, my late wife, Cindy, and I also contacted the head of the then-active local chapter of the NAACP and offered our services in organizing a counter-protest. Quite frankly, the rally we sponsored was something of a flop: It attracted too little attention and was not well attended. But that’s not the point: The Klan held its rally, the NAACP held its rally, all sides were heard, and nobody tried to take away anyone else’s rights. That was free speech in action—the American Way.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.