AUG. 7, 2017 — Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, recently led a hearing on Capitol Hill about free speech on American campuses. Freedom of speech and thought are at risk in colleges and universities. But congressional intervention is a nonstarter.
At the hearing, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro said that in speaking on college campuses, he’s “encountered anti-free-speech measures, administrative cowardice, even physical violence.”
In just the past year, Americans have seen a scholar greeted with a riot at a prominent liberal-arts college and a professor warned to leave campus to keep himself safe. The disinvitation of controversial speakers is now commonplace, as is the restriction of free speech to designated areas on campuses. And in a 2016 survey, a majority of college students agreed that the culture on their campus stopped some people from speaking their minds, lest they offend others.
This is wrong, and for the university, tragic. Colleges that become hostile environments for unpopular ideas — or ideas that contradict a certain ideology — are betraying themselves and their students.
It’s good to see that the problem of free speech on campus is getting attention. But federal intervention is decidedly not the answer, as the First Amendment to the Constitution makes clear.
A federal campus-speech law might, in the end, have a chilling effect on speech. Suppose, for example, that the law required colleges to punish students who shout down speakers.
The university must police itself. Free speech, and the open market of ideas, is all the regulation a free society requires, or should tolerate.