Campuses Silence Commencement Speeches

Wednesday, 14 May 2014 08:16 AM

By Pete Hoekstra

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The silence caused by politicizing speech is deafening.

Students at Rutgers University organized a sit-in to protest former Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice speaking at their graduation ceremony because of her service in the Bush administration. Brandeis University rescinded an invitation to Somali-born women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali to speak on campus on account of her views on Islam.

Student and faculty protests resulted in International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, who was scheduled to give the commencement address at Smith College, withdrawing her name. Protesters at Brown University successfully shouted down New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly due to opposition of his stop-and-frisk policy.

Silencing free speech is not limited to college campuses, however.

Attorney General Eric Holder canceled an address at a swearing-in ceremony for graduating cadets with the Oklahoma City Police Department over opposition to his policies. The Topeka, Kan., public school district rescheduled a graduation speech by first lady Michelle Obama due in part to it coinciding with a momentous Supreme Court decision.

In every case, a very vocal minority effectively politicized each event and silenced the free expression of those with whom they disagree by threatening protests, circulating petitions and disrupting events. Such intolerant opposition to the freedom of speech for all — often before a word is even uttered — is stifling healthy debate in the U.S.

The vast majority of participants who would likely have benefitted from hearing diverse views will no longer have the opportunity.

It is a disappointing reflection on a growing unwillingness in American culture to allow for an open and honest dialogue on the multitude of positions on differing issues. It is a development unfortunately caused in large part by politicizing all speech all of the time.

Nobody will ever agree with everything everyone says, especially once an issue or speaker becomes politically charged. But as tolerant and civilized Americans, we should at least have the decency to hear them out.

Pete Hoekstra represented Michigan for 18 years in Congress as chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee and as a leading bipartisan voice on policy and oversight of national security, education, labor, and economic issues. He currently serves as the Shillman senior fellow at the Investigative Project on Terrorism. For more of Pete Hoekstra's reports, Go Here Now.

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