On Censorship and Intolerance

It’s hard to talk about issues in the context of very emotional times. And the death of George Floyd, caught on video, has certainly highlighted a long-standing issue and raised strong feelings in the country.

However, one underlying theme has become concerning. It is a difficult to talk about and deal with issues of tolerance of dissent, more so when it may involve topics and opinions that many may find repulsive.  But an intelligent society can’t survive if it allows itself to be driven solely by passions of the moment, even if the roots of those passions are justified.

These emotional times have led to almost unprecedented threats of censorship, and a silencing of any differing views. It is amazingly ironic that in a time where we are working hard, as a country, to understand and practice tolerance of others that the same people who are among the loudest in the calls for honoring others who may be different, are also those that are the most intolerant of anyone that may disagree.

Do you have a hard time believing that those who profess ‘tolerance’, and understanding and diversity are the same ones that are fighting hard to censor different opinions? You shouldn’t, because it happens far too regularly in some quarters. So let’s take a closer look at some examples, and maybe start with the paragon of the First Amendment and freedom of speech, the national media.

Two weeks ago, the editor of the New York Times was forced to resign after a revolt among the paper’s staff. What did he do that was so terrible that he is now unemployed, you may ask? Well, he had the nerve to run a national syndicated editorial from a Republican Senator about the protests and riots across the country. No, really. That’s it. He allowed an editorial to be printed alongside other editorials, which happened to have a different opinion from the paper’s staff. And several NY Times reporters expressed on social media that just publishing a dissenting opinion (dissenting from THEIR opinion, that is) put Black lives ‘in danger’. Really?! Simply expressing an opinion put lives in danger? It wasn’t an editorial from some unknown writer that had no audience, but was a piece that was nationally syndicated from a sitting US Senator. But the mere fact that it was printed was a crime that cost the editor his job. (Later, a New York Times staffer wrote a piece more or less trying to defend forcing the editor out by arguing that it isn’t ‘fair’ to report both sides because Republicans are so crazy that they shouldn’t even be heard.)

Not to be outdone, the Philadelphia Enquirer forced out an editor for the headline in an opinion piece that said that we also needed to be concerned about the violence and destruction of property that have come out of some of the protests nationwide. The editor said that ‘buildings mattered too’. But that perspective was not to be tolerated. So another member of the media lost their job in an occupation that says that it values the First Amendment, because they had a ‘wrong’ opinion on the topic of tolerance and diversity.

Amazingly the censors can’t see the irony of their dictatorial intolerance. In a profession where freedom of speech and the guarantees of the First Amendment are almost sacrosanct, it’s shocking the amount of intolerance. Far too many ‘journalists’ now view it as their job to ‘educate’ the public rather than report the news. And, by ‘educate’ they mean indoctrinate people to conform to their opinion and to silence dissent from the ‘correct’ story. (Because, of course, they are far smarter then the average viewer or reader.)

 

Colleges and universities are supposed to be places that encourage independent thought. How often have we heard the cry of ‘academic freedom’ to defend a staff member who may have expressed an unpopular opinion? Yet we are hearing reports of professors under fire because of their opinion on the violence seen at some of the protests or even about the Black Lives Matter organization. Even questioning appears to be a crime worthy of firing. In just one example, a Cornell professor is under fire for his recently expressed opinions and there have been calls for his firing.

And though these are just some examples from the media and academia, who are supposedly the most vigorous in their defense of free speech, it reflects a growing intolerance of different opinions across society. In Alabama, a church had its lease pulled because someone complained about social media posts that the pastor had ‘liked’. (Of course, it was a Christian house of worship, because that wouldn’t be tolerated against any other religion).

A Carver High School English teacher, Jasmine Clisby, decided to catalog the pastor’s “likes” and share them with the press. The church, whose attendees are roughly a third black and Hispanic, lost the lease that it had for roughly six years for no reason other than social media ‘likes’. But that wasn’t the only implication. The church’s Christ Health Center will also be banned from operating on city grounds, according to the Birmingham Housing Authority, which decided to ban volunteer health workers from all of the city’s low income public housing projects.

So you can lose a lease by not making payments, abusing the property….and now by liking a comment on social media that someone doesn’t disagrees with.

The list grows and could go on and on. Why? Because having a different opinion is wrong to some.

Our nation, our society and indeed, democracy itself is founded on the principles of tolerating different viewpoints, even ones that are repugnant. Years ago, the Supreme Court found that American Nazi party had the right to march and protest in the heavily Jewish Chicago suburb of Skokie. Any thinking person would find Nazi ideology repugnant, more so when they want to bring back memories of terrible crimes against humanity. Yet as disgusting and vile as that act was, we allowed even terrible opinions to be heard, as long as no violence or other laws were broken (and make no mistake, the people who participated were certainly vile people). Minorities must have their rights protected—even minorities of thought. But we now have a growing culture where any different opinion can’t be tolerated. And it speaks to the fear of the weakness of their argument, when people decide that they can’t win in the battle of ideas but have to, instead, try to silence anyone who disagrees to the slightest degree. We should all be concerned.

Unfortunately, much of the media is leading the charge for censorship. And it’s more sad when we find the most intolerant are those who say they are fighting for ‘tolerance’.

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