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Those who suppress free speech will end up victims

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Posted: Monday, January 23, 2017 11:33 pm

Years ago when I was a counselor at Lodi High, a parent came into my office demanding that her son be removed from a biology class.

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

“They are teaching the theory of evolution in this class,” she said. “I don’t want my kid exposed to that kind of secular nonsense. We are Christians, and we believe in creationism.”

It had been a long day. Through the office window, I could see a typical depressing Valley winter. I was not interested in hanging around for a “get-nowhere” debate. So I made this statement and asked the following questions:

“It’s obvious you have taken sides on the issue and I commend you for having a valid opinion shared by many.”

“Thank you,” she replied.

“But I have a question: What are your goals with your son regarding this debate? Do you want him to influence others with a belief in creationism?”

“Well, yes,” was the answer after she had carefully contemplated the situation.

“Then here’s the key,” I continued. “Do you think anyone will listen to him if he does not have a thorough grasp of both sides of the argument?”

There was a pause, and I could see the wheels turning. The anxious mother gave the following response:

“You know, you’re right. I had not thought of it in that way before. No thoughtful person listens to anyone who does not understand both sides of an issue. You can leave him in biology.”

This happened a number of years ago, and the woman obviously had a sense of logic. She could put her emotions aside and look at the sensible progression of goals and objectives for her children.

Now looking at the nightly news and what is happening on many college campuses, I’m not so sure this same conversation could take place today.

Emotions and mob rule seem to control much of our present thinking. Whoever can shout the loudest, generate the most imaginary facts, express repugnant personal insults or shut down opposing points of view often are acceptable methods to dominate the direction of a debate. For most of human history, these tactics usually signal a precursor to a totalitarian society.

On the other hand, free speech has not been the norm for most civilizations. Even today, the United States is just about the only country left in the world that has this right truly protected by a constitutional guarantee. However, that right is under constant assault.

The fact that many millennials don’t understand the value of a free-speech society is most concerning. When asked, too many college students see no point in debating different points of view from a singular position taught to them in class. Those who have a need for suppression, however, only demonstrate their fears of fallibility for one side of an argument.

More than 50 years ago, The college Free Speech Movement began with Mario Savio on the UC Berkeley campus. Yet it’s ironic that today’s school “speech codes” are designed to do just the opposite and amazingly, are accompanied by little student opposition.

But reality will always win in the end and leave those who believe in oppression of free speech as victims, themselves.

I have not forgotten that parent who came into my office years ago. She realized that respecting different views on an issue are important factors for human understanding and unity. Otherwise, people simply spin their wheels in hatred and isolation, which only have the effect of hardening preconceived ideologies. In the end, impermeable constructs of human thought generally remain stagnant and ultimately change nothing.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.

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