“The American people owe it to themselves, and to the cause of free government, to prove by their establishments for the advancement and diffusion of knowledge, that their political institutions, … are as favorable to the intellectual and moral improvement of man as they are conformable to his individual and social rights. What spectacle can be more edifying or more seasonable, than that of liberty and learning, each leaning on the other for their mutual and surest support?”
Last week the House heard H622, a bill regarding free speech on college campuses. It may seem redundant, and some legislators were mocking the fact, that an Idaho law was needed to uphold the Frist Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, there is a continuing decline of a basic knowledge of our founding principles, and an already realized abridgement of the First Amendment on college campuses. The emergence of “safe spaces” and “free speech zones” are examples of restrictions of free speech that are dependent on the biases of those making the rules, not an overarching truth that applies to everybody.
Coupled with the constraint of speech on campuses, is the energetic opposition to any statements that do not conform to current social mores. Last year, BSU political science professor Scott Yenor had the temerity to publish an article that challenged our cultural momentum toward the destruction of traditional families. What ensued were assertions that the article was “against our policy of diversity and civility,” that it “violated our policies and our shared values.” All of this culminated with a call for terminating the professor’s employment. To the university’s credit, it stated that it would not terminate Professor Yenor, despite over a thousand signatures on a petition to do so.
The reaction generated by Professor Yenor’s article exposes a problem within the education industry, and in society in general, that speaks to the Madison quote. It is not merely the fact that the Constitution is being ignored at public facilities, but what this censorship portends for education. Similar to the point of my last article regarding social media, this is another attack on the diffusion of knowledge, and at the very locations where knowledge is to be encouraged and discussed. Universities used to be the places that ideas were to be shared and debated; the places where intellect was stimulated to dispute between truth and error, based upon a foundation of classical knowledge. Efforts to spread knowledge through the exchange of differing views has grown increasingly difficult in our public education system nationally, and the tyranny of the offended limits the ability to have a rational debate on an issue. The prohibition of certain points of view, or the protection from them, only retards knowledge, and indoctrinates rather than educates. Without information from multiple, and opposing, sources, a person’s knowledge is stunted and deficient.
A lack of knowledge is a precursor to government tyranny and should be guarded against as strenuously as possible. As distasteful, or offensive, as some opinions can be, they ought to be exposed and weighed on their merit to a free society, not our emotional impulse to restrict that which we do not agree with. An unknown author made the following statement, “Madison considered information to be the equivalent of knowledge, or at least the prerequisite to knowledge. It seems clear he felt that, beyond its intrinsic value for the individual and society, knowledge was a prerequisite to a truly representative government. In other words, the sharing of information places the governors and the governed on an equal footing in the democratic process. In Madison’s view, a functioning and fair government depends on a free flow of information.”.
Sage Dixon represents Bonner and Boundary counties in the Idaho House of Representatives, District 1A.