President Trump is correct to shine light on campus free speech

Free speech used to be the norm in America — a topic rarely considered controversial. In recent years, however, this longstanding tradition has fallen victim to the silencing culture prevalent at today’s colleges and universities.

Fortunately, the tides are turning. President TrumpDonald John TrumpPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump FBI identifies Pensacola shooter as Saudi Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant Trump calls Warren 'Pocahontas,' knocks wealth tax MORE recently signed an executive order requiring academic institutions to support free speech in order to receive federal research funding. Fighting back against "political correctness," the White House is mandating that universities uphold free speech or risk losing billions in research funding. More specifically, the executive order creates a new “free speech requirement” that academic institutions must sign to receive funding from any of the 12 federal agencies currently responsible for subsidizing higher education research. 

In one administration official's words: "While many schools — or all schools — are frankly supposed to follow this currently, it will ensure that grant dollars are associated through the grant-making process, and schools will have to certify that they're following this condition."

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This is welcome news to those of us who have made defending free speech on campus a priority. Whether or not one supports this executive use of power, a presidential response has been a long time coming. In recent years, the First Amendment has faced unprecedented threats from all sides, with a "mob mentality" shutting down speech and "the grown-ups in the room"— professors and administrators— legitimizing that radical activism.

 

From talk show host Bill Maher’s boycott petition at the University of California at Berkeley to the more recent protests aimed at conservative commentators like Ben Shapiro, campus radicals have become increasingly vitriolic toward differences of opinion — as well as those who voice them. 

Last month, a conservative activist was assaulted at Berkeley simply for protesting hate crime hoaxes. Just this week, a "Lies Feminists Tell" event — hosted by a pro-life student group —came under fire at Boston College, with promotional posters being ripped down and pro-choice students orchestrating a "protest" on the day of the event.

As President Trump understands, the problem is only getting worse. I serve with Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), a college organization that works to overturn unconstitutional restrictions on free speech. I spend my days working with college students, many of whom face discrimination and harassment on basis of their political views. From Boston College to Berkeley and everywhere in between, we don't always support the ideas of the speakers we defend, but we do believe in their right to voice them.

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The left's education monopoly only amplifies the one-size-fits-all narrative on campus. But my experiences with YAL have taught me that, despite this, millions of students across the spectrum still value the liberties enshrined in the First Amendment. That's why we launched YAL’s “Fight for Free Speech” campaign, a project designed to overturn unconstitutional speech restrictions on college campuses. To date, we have reversed unlawful speech codes on 51 campuses, impacting more than one million students.

We are encouraged by President Trump's unwavering support for free speech. His executive order signals that anti-speech activism will no longer be tolerated by the White House, and he should be commended by Democrats and Republicans. Freedom of speech is not a left vs. right issue. Both parties have an obligation to fight the radical activists’ assault on the First Amendment.

As British author Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote in The Friends of Voltaire, "I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Those words are as American as fireworks on Fourth of July, and they resonate now more than ever.

This executive order does not mean our work is done. Our goal is to see grassroots action for free speech on both sides of the aisle. We must defend the First Amendment for everyone, because we recognize that this is the formula for a better, more prosperous America.

We can agree or disagree peacefully, assisting the flow of ideas rather than turning off the tap completely. The more ideas we encounter, the more our American experiment flourishes.

Cliff Maloney is the president of Young Americans for Liberty.