Response to Editorial: How Free is Free Speech?
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How Free is Free Speech at Westmont?
How free is free speech at Westmont? It depends on who you are.
Despite being a university devoted to the free expression of ideas, Westmont as an institution disproportionately discriminates against conservative ideas and speech and favors a pseudo-Christian liberalism that is held by only a highly vocal minority of students.
This discrimination occurs through two major institutions at Westmont––the student body newspaper (the Horizon) and the school administration (leadership). Interestingly enough, while a majority of students are actually fairly conservative, an allied highly-vocal liberal minority and an unaccountable administration wield greater power over public discourse and political expression and have chosen to use their power to push a liberal political agenda at the cost of conservative voices.
Now, this isn’t as blatant or extreme as freedom abuses in Soviet-era Russia––there’s no gulags, but there is a silence or reduced presence of the conservative voice in the paper, in the classrooms, and from Kerrwood. And in some ways, the fact that the discrimination against conservatives is softer, subtler, and more invisible makes the practice all the more dangerous.
We don’t have a campus that publicly admits to favoring a liberal perspective. The Horizon staff does not talk about favoring liberal stories in its news coverage, liberal articles in its selection process, or a liberal vision for the paper as a whole. But, aside from a few overeager Op-Ed writers tackling issues above their pay-grade of $10 a week and the Op-Ed editor who gets their articles in print despite editorial hostility, the paper does seem curiously “tilted” to the left.
Think about your experience as readers. You’ve heard a lot about Ferguson and glorified sexual pluralism, but not really any stories on murdered police or traditional Christian values. There’s been plenty of self-congratulatory praise for the #Ferguson protests on campus and administration support, but pro-life advocates like Seth Gruber are silenced and demonized––particularly by individuals who have occupied positions of leadership in the paper. You’ve even heard agreeable buzzwords like “tolerance” and “diversity”––yet the editorial staff’s decision to follow a far from neutral Associated Press style that bans words like “illegal immigrant” and other conservative speech and the staff’s consistent practices of favoring liberal articles, disproportionately showing liberal news stories, and adopting a liberal operating framework seems to infer that by “diverse and tolerant free speech,” they only mean tolerance and diversity of ideas they agree with. Displaying the intolerance of tolerance, the Horizon staff softly censors conservative ideas and pushes a liberal political agenda under the guise of “tolerance,” “diversity,” and “non-offensiveness.”
The problem is that editors at the Horizon, and many like them, have a fundamentally warped and sad misunderstanding of what free speech is––which is why they so ignorantly trample on what free speech really means. It is not, as the Horizon staff believes, “this very responsibility [to use free speech with ‘tolerance’ and ‘non-offensiveness’] that makes the right [to free speech] itself so valuable.” The right to freedom of speech––the right that many are sacrificing their lives for today––draws its essential value from the inalienable, God-given right of any individual to voice whatever belief he or she holds dear free from bullying, censorship or terror.
Over the next few weeks, we are going to examine the ways in which the rights of expression of conservative ideas are hampered and liberal ideas are disproportionately favored in the paper, in the classroom, and in the halls of the administration. This is an opening shot intended to spark conversation and prepare the way for a series of articles that will substantiate and drive these claims home. In the spirit of free expression and open dialogue, I invite anyone who disagrees to write a dual-column with me week to week.
It is my hope that Westmont will change its practices to give equal preference and freedom to both conservative and liberal ideas and thereby live up to its calling as a Christian academic institution.