The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday is how the current cancel culture destroys free speech and open discourse. Americans should feel free to share their thoughts and ideas about any topic if they do not infringe on the rights of other people. However, most Americans do not feel safe in sharing their political views. A recent poll from Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank located in Washington, D.C., found that 62 percent of Americans are afraid to share their political opinions.
Jay Hobbs posted an interesting article at Ricochet.com titled “Frederick Douglas and the Answer to Cancel Culture.” As you may know, Frederick Douglas was born a slave in the Antebellum South. He was not taught to read and write, so he devised a way to learn these skills. He challenged white boys his age to spelling contests. He lost every contest, but he learned to read and write. In time, he used his skills in the English language to gain freedom for himself and to “play a crucial role in the eventual liberation of millions of American slaves.”
Hobbs found it interesting that the cancel culture of today condemns the exact characteristics – competition, hard work, and rugged individualism – to push the idea that they are values of “whiteness.” Most people would consider those values as important to success for every race. The current cancel culture makes it even more important for Americas to stand up and defend freedom of speech. Hobbs encouraged his readers to follow the courageous example and relentless commitment of Frederick Douglas in fighting for “the liberty of the mind and freedom of speech [that] played a major role in achieving the physical liberation of millions of Americans bound in chains.”
As an example of the importance of standing up and facing the cancel culture crowd, Hobbs wrote of a “largely center-left group of writers, historians, and scholars [who] published an open letter at Harper’s Magazine calling for a recommitment to free speech and open debate.” Among this group were J.K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series) and Matthew Yglesias of Vox. The signatories all received “sharp backlash from far-left activists.”
Hobbs added “a separate group of prominent scholars, legal experts, and religious leaders [who] signed onto the Philadelphia Statement.” This statement was released at Newsweek and called “for a renewed commitment to civil discourse and free speech” that is part of the American experiment.
It’s “the American tradition of freedom of expression,” the statement lays out, that “trains us to think critically, to defend our ideas, and, at the same time, to be considerate of others whose creeds and convictions differ form our own ... And it admonishes us that if we value the freedom of expression, we must extend the same measure of freedom to others, even to those whom we believe have gone very wrong in their thinking.”
In its first 24 hours, the Statement gained well over 5,000 signatories, adding onto its initial list that included human rights scholar and advocate Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Kevin D. Williamson of National Review, and Dr. Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute – three public figures who have experienced the human cost of cancel culture firsthand.
Ali grew up in truly oppressive conditions in Somalia and has spent her adult life advocating for the rights of women and minorities. Yet in 2016, she was targeted by the thoroughly discredited Southern Poverty Law Center as an “anti-Muslim extremist” – an unfounded allegation that not only damaged her reputation, but further compromised her physical safety. In 2018, Williamson was fired by The Atlantic at the behest of a Twitter mob just three days after his first piece appeared there. And a year earlier, Murray was caught in the middle of an actual mob at Middlebury College, where he had been invited as a gust speaker by a student group.
Is it any wonder that Americans are afraid to speak about their political views? I did not read the names of any conservatives in the Hobbs piece, but I know of several who were invited to speak on college campuses and had their invitations rescinded or faced mobs of angry students. It appears that libertarians and people in the left-center are also concerned about losing freedom to share ideas and views.
Frederick Douglas once said, “Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist.” The liberty and freedoms of Americans are slowly being infringed upon, and they will disappear if all Americans do not stand up and fight for them.