Bacon: Exercising the right of free speech

Posted by: Allison Vanatsky  | Friday, September 29, 2017

The Brookings Institute recently released a survey with alarming results. A large fraction of college students in the U.S. “. . . believe it is acceptable to act – including resorting to violence – to shut down expression they consider offensive.” According to the United States Constitution, as Americans, we are born with certain rights, one being the freedom of speech. In my role as a public servant, I never want to deny a person this right, but we also need to begin listening, so maybe we can have fewer outbursts of violence and inch closer toward a resolution. We need to reignite and foster a culture of respectful debate and disagreement.

In this regard, Purdue University has been a national leader in which Hoosiers should be proud. Under the leadership of Mitch Daniels, in 2015 Purdue became the first public university to adopt the “Chicago Principles.” These set of principles were put into place by the private institution of the University of Chicago in 2014 after multiple incidents arose across the country where students on campuses tried to bar controversial lecturers, commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients. Across the country this has become an alarming and ever-increasing problem. In some cases, administrators have rescinded invitations in response to the pressure. Many of these invitees and dis-invitees are well within the mainstream of American academic and public life, such as Condoleezza Rice. Purdue’s policy allows members of the university to freely criticize speakers, but in turn they may not obstruct or interfere with the freedom of others who express a different viewpoint from themselves. Also, very importantly, they cannot intimidate or prevent the public from attending those speaking events.

Purdue’s policy is a great model because it allows both sides to peacefully display their stance on certain issues. Living near to the University of Evansville and the University of Southern Indiana, we should be aware of their policies on free speech, since our communities might be affected by them in the future.

Last year, the president of the University of Evansville sent out a campus-wide message on where the school stands on academic freedom and the freedom of expression. Within the message, President Thomas Kazee wrote that the school values the freedom of expression and the freedom from discrimination. He went on to say that “. . .  intolerance or harassment directed at any individual or group will not be permitted.” I couldn’t agree more. For several years throughout the nation, speakers have had their speeches interrupted, shouted down or barricaded by protestors. This is completely contrary to the free exchange of ideas and culture of debate universities are supposed to uphold.

As the recent Brookings Institute study concludes, “Freedom of expression is deeply imperiled on U.S. campuses. . . [it] is clearly not, in practice, available on many campuses, including many public campuses that have First Amendment obligations.”

This should concern us all, no matter our political stripes or educational background. In order to compete on the global stage, Indiana and America need higher education institutions that celebrate and support free speech and civil debate.

Hoosiers should also be heartened to learn that the University of Southern Indiana has its policies posted on its website for every student and the public to see. The university states that the ideas of members within the community will naturally conflict, but it is not the role of the establishment to shield students from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable or offensive. However, they do go on to say the community shares in the responsibility for a maintaining a climate of mutual respect. Again, I completely agree.

If you disagree with someone, by all means stand up to their viewpoint: Hear them out, let others hear them out, try to find common ground and then detail with evidence and logic of why you disagree. In some cases, simply ignoring and denying attention to nonsense is effective. What’s clear is that hysterical shouting, mob actions and rioting solve nothing.    

As always, please contact me with questions or input at 317-232-9833 or by email at h75@iga.in.gov. I appreciate hearing from you in order to better represent our district. Stay up-to-date with the work being done at the Statehouse by signing up to receive my email updates at www.in.gov/h75.

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State Rep. Ron Bacon (R-Chandler) represents House District 75,
which includes portions of Warrick, Pike and Spencer counties.

A high-resolution photo of Bacon can be downloaded by clicking here