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E-Pluribus | October 3, 2022
Free speech is America's bedrock, don't give up on universities yet, and San Francisco undermines parents' rights.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Laurence H. Silberman: Free Speech Is the Most Fundamental American Value
The news came over the weekend that attorney Laurence H. Silberman passed away, but last week the Wall Street Journal published a speech had given at Dartmouth College less than a month before. In it, Silberman explained the fundamental place free speech holds in America and how that relates to the Supreme Court, the New York Times v. Sullivan case that Silberman has argued should be overturned, the press, and rule of law and the Constitution.
A guarantee of free press does not mean special immunization from accountability when the press libels a person. A free press is not necessarily an all-powerful press. The Supreme Court in Sullivan was concerned, legitimately, about problems created by excessive libel actions against newspapers supporting the struggle for civil rights, but that could have been handled with legislation. It was illegitimate for the Supreme Court to literally make up constitutional law to deal with the problem. Its decision was contrary to text and history, and it created new problems for society in the form of media that can spread false rumors and sling unfounded accusations directed at public figures without consequence.
The history of the First Amendment is fascinating. The phrase “freedom of speech” first appeared in the Anglo-American tradition in the English Bill of Rights written in 1689. It only protected the expression of members of Parliament. This was so because, in the English tradition, Parliament, not the general population, was the source of sovereignty. Our Founders extended that right to all citizens, because here the people rule as sovereign.
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Turning to the present, I am convinced we are faced today with a worse threat to free speech than during that earlier time. Indeed, now some political speech is attacked as if it were blasphemy drawn from the colonial period when witches were burned at the stake. Threats against political speakers are not simply levied by unscrupulous politicians, they come also from young people influenced by academics—ironically the prime targets of the McCarthy era. Certain controversial subjects are placed out of bounds.
I am shocked at the recent challenges to free speech in our academic institutions—particularly the Ivy League. For example, recently at Yale Law School, students attempted to stop, then drown out, a public dialogue between a conservative and a liberal lawyer. They were both supporting untrammeled political speech. The administration’s response was to vaguely gesture at the importance of free speech but also to celebrate “respect and inclusion”—whatever that means. The dean sent a letter calling the behavior “unacceptable,” but she did not so much as issue a slap on the wrist to the students who were hostile to free speech.
Read it all.
Samuel J. Abrams: Free Speech on Campus Is Not a Lost Cause
Much of what we feature at Pluribus casts doubt on the future of higher education, but Samuel Abrams writes at National Review that hope remains. Although progressive/woke thinking dominates elite educational institutions, students at colleges and universities more broadly considered are more conservative than conventional wisdom seems to suggest.
Given the well-known progressive impulses and woke ideas that continuously seem to emerge from our colleges and universities, the Republican mistrust of higher education is certainly reasonable. However, given the impending growth of Gen Z college students as a proportion of the electorate, it would be a mistake for the GOP to write them off and think of higher education as a lost cause.
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) just released new data from its 2022 study of free speech on campus that show that higher education is anything but monolithic. Although some schools are far more ideologically liberal, most are relatively balanced. Rather than abandoning campus, then, Republicans should try to engage with college students, especially considering that they are more likely to be politically engaged than their peers.
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Despite the fact that they only represent a small number of students, many of the top-ranked colleges and universities in the nation generate a disproportionate amount of attention, and they happen to be quite liberal. Almost two-thirds of students (65 percent) in the top 25 schools per U.S. News and World Report identify as liberal, while just 13 percent say that they are conservative. However, with schools ranked below 101, the numbers look quite different. Not only does the number for liberal students drop to 43 percent, but the number for conservative students almost doubles to 24 percent. This shows that, despite college students being more liberal than the national population, liberals are not dominant everywhere by any stretch of the imagination, and among the non-elite institutions, there is far more ideological balance.
Read the whole thing.
Christopher F. Rufo: Pronouns Unbound
At City Journal, Christopher Rufo reports on more evidence that some public educators are working behind the scenes to undermine parents’ authority and values. This time, Rufo reveals the gender ideology being pushed in San Francisco schools, in many cases without the consent of even knowledge of parents.
According to documents obtained from a whistleblower, in 2021 the district celebrated “International Pronouns Day,” teaching students that they can adopt a wide range of genders and sexual identities. In elementary school, the district tells students that they may not “feel like a boy OR a girl” and can identify as “non-binary” and use “they” pronouns. For secondary students, the district teaches that they can be part of the “bisexual umbrella” and identify as “fluid,” “pansexual,” “omnisexual,” “hetero-, homo-, lesbi-curious,” “hetero-, homo-, lesbi-flexible,” and “queer.”
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To assist in this process, the district published a worksheet called “Elementary Name and Pronoun Information Sheet,” which teachers can use to facilitate gender transitions for their K-5 students. The document tells children that they may choose a different name and set of pronouns than the ones they use at home, and that this new identity will be kept secret from their parents. The sheet asks: “What is your official name?”; “What name would you like me to call you in class?”; “What name would you like me to use with your grown-ups?”; “Would you like me to call you a boy, a girl, or something else?”
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San Francisco Unified’s policy subverts basic parental rights. The district is playing a dangerous game, facilitating child gender and sexual transitions without notifying or gaining the consent of their families. This is intentional. The district explicitly encourages teachers to prioritize ideology over parental interests and, according to one document, recommends that teachers identify parents as “caregiver 1 and caregiver 2 instead of mother and father”—a practice that assumes that parents are interchangeable and incidental. “[Students] have the right to be ‘out’ at school, and to not have that information that they are ‘out’—with new pronouns, with a new identity—in any way shared with those folks at home,” said the district’s LGBTQ programs director, Kena Hazelwood. In addition, the district does not allow parents to opt children out of lessons on “gender identity” and “sexual orientation,” which are incorporated into the curriculum for English, social studies, arts, and other subjects.
Read it all here.
Although there may be some disagreement over “young people are not natural rebels,” Princeton professor Robert P. George says professors need to encourage students to think for themselves and feel free to speak up:
UnHerd columnist Kat Rosenfield on the idea that “progressives” have cornered the market on societal advancement:
And finally, from me last week in response to the news that California governor Newson signed a law that allows out-of-state minors to receive transgender surgery without parental consent: