(p. C2) The problem of free speech takes different forms in different settings. Speech controversies on college campuses affect relatively few Americans, but they receive a great deal of attention, since colleges have traditionally been centers of open debate. Students once jealously guarded their speech rights. The Free Speech Movement, the first great student protest of the 1960s, erupted at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1964, when a former student was arrested by a campus police officer for leafleting on behalf of the civil rights organization CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality. At the height of the protest, up to 4,000 students demonstrated in favor of free speech on campus, and 800 went to jail.
To see how much things have changed, look at the case of Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, which the Supreme Court recently agreed to take up. The case deals with a 2016 incident in which a student at Georgia Gwinnett College, a public college in Lawrenceville, Ga., was disciplined for making a public speech testifying to his Christian faith. Ironically, Chike Uzuegbunam was standing in one of the school’s designated “free speech zones” when a campus police officer told him that the school had received complaints and he had to stop speaking.
In a 2017 brief arguing for dismissal of the case, Georgia’s attorney general argued that the officer was justified because Mr. Uzuegbunam “used contentious religious language that, when directed to a crowd, has a tendency to incite hostility.”
. . .
. . ., when people are told that they can’t say what they think, rather than being presented with an argument for why it’s wrong, they may comply, but they won’t change their minds. As the philosopher Benedict Spinoza wrote in the 17th century, when religious opinions were the ones being censored, people “are most prone to resent the branding as criminal of opinions which they believe to be true…In a democracy, everyone submits to the control of authority over his actions, but not over his judgment and reason.”
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(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sep. 4, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)