Free speech under fire

Free Speech | Nihilism has invaded college campuses and politics
by Nick Eicher
Posted on Friday, February 10, 2017, at 12:02 pm

Each week, The World and Everything in It features a “Culture Friday” segment, in which Executive Producer Nick Eicher discusses the latest cultural news with John Stonestreet, president of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Here is a summary of this week’s conversation.

This week, John Stonestreet and I talked about the state of free speech in the United States. The University of California, Berkeley, known as the birthplace of the free speech movement, saw destructive, aggressive protests Feb. 1 against a planned appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos, a gay, alt-right personality. The event was canceled because of the violence.

Then, just a few days ago, in a Senate debate over attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., began to read a 1986 letter from the late Coretta Scott King, a civil rights leader and the widow of Martin Luther King Jr. The letter disparaged Sessions’ actions as a federal prosecutor in Alabama. The Senate ultimately ruled Warren was out of order and barred her from speaking at all during the debate.

“I think Milo Yiannopoulos is nuts,” Stonestreet said. “He’s not someone I would agree with on an awful lot of things. Nor is Elizabeth Warren. But the ability to actually look people in the eye and have a rational conversation about things that matter and then make a decision and move forward is just something that’s lost. It’s lost on college campuses, and it’s lost in politics.”

A deep sense of nihilism—the atheistic belief that life is meaningless—has permeated both college campuses and politics, Stonestreet said.

“We deal with things, like getting our political agendas through, only on the wheels of power, not on the wheels of persuasion or of argument, of articulation,” he said. “As a culture, [it] makes us dumber and it makes us more susceptible to captivity, either intellectual or physical.”

Stonestreet applauded politicians in North Carolina and Colorado, who are taking legislative steps to protect free speech on college campuses: “If free speech can’t be had in the place where you’re supposed to debate so that you can learn, how are we going to maintain any sort of semblance of free speech and rational discourse in the larger public square?”

Listen to “Culture Friday” on the Feb. 10 edition of The World and Everything in It.

Nick Eicher

Nick lives in St. Louis, loves the Blues (as in the NHL), is executive producer of WORLD Radio, and co-hosts WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickEicher.

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  • MTJanet
    Posted: Fri, 02/10/2017 08:50 pm

    I have grave concerns for a 67 year old woman (E. Warren) who has no self-control as she is past the time where learning something of that nature is beyond her.  I like to think that the young and dumb on campus may eventually grow up.  

  • Hans's picture
    Posted: Sun, 02/12/2017 09:57 am

    I think that you misunderstood Eicher and Stonestreet's point. At least as I read the article, they were commenting that while they tended to agree with neither Yiannopoulos nor Warren, silencing an opinion becasue one disagrees with it is opposed to the ideal of free speech, regardless of whether one resorts to rules or rioting to do so. In this case, both the Senate floor and the university ought to be bastions of free speech in the interest of debate, and that necessitates not silencing unpopular voices.

  • WM
    Posted: Sat, 02/18/2017 07:29 pm

    Senator Warren had been warned (more than once, I believe) that her comments breached a Senate rule against disparaging a colleague, either directly or indirectly.  That rule was in place, and known to all; as were the consequences.  Her silencing, in my opinion, was not an offense against free speech, but a predictable consequence of abusing a Senate rule governing discourse.