Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Do we still have freedom of speech? Well, yes; sometimes we do.

Thank goodness for the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects what our Founders viewed as our God-given rights to free exercise of religion, free speech, freedom of the press, peaceable assembly, and to petition the government for redress of grievances.

However, while efforts to infringe upon those and other rights are not unheard of, the attacks on them currently form a far more serious threat than perhaps at any other time, and certainly the most serious in many decades.

There has been ample news coverage of instances where Christian bakers and florists were forced to bake cakes or produce flower arrangements for gay weddings, contrary to their religious beliefs.

A decorated Army chaplain is facing what his attorneys are calling a “career-ending punishment” after he explained to a soldier that he could not conduct a marriage retreat that included same sex couples, but was willing to find someone else to do it.

Somehow, no matter how many people are available and willing to provide these services, those wanting a particular service view it as a horrible crime if a person refuses to perform it on religious grounds.

These days, certain “preferences” held by relatively small groups are thought to be of even greater importance than those rights set in stone by our Founders.

Some small efforts at balancing these breaches have occurred, but one’s ability to practice his or her religion in the customary fashion is only sometimes protected, these days.

These breaches of the First Amendment’s protections are serious enough, but what is happening on social media, on college campuses and elsewhere regarding free speech and free access to information is much worse, if for no other reason because of its broad swath of free speech encroachments that are being slashed through our culture.

Burgess Owens, a conservative African-American entrepreneur and 10-year veteran of the NFL, appeared at Hobart and William Smith Colleges recently. He told the audience, “I grew up in the Deep South during Jim Crow segregation laws. I can tell you how racism looks, how it feels, and what it means. You guys today can go anyplace you want to — any restaurant, any college.”

Well, that was too much for the audience. A female attendee asked him to repeat his first name, and after he did so, she said, “Oh, I thought it was ‘Tom,’” as in Uncle Tom. Cute.

Student activists at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, made good on their threat to disrupt an address by conservative Christina Hoff Sommers. What makes this one worse is that it was at the Law School. Yes, that’s right: students studying the law denied Sommers her free speech right.

The Leftist operators of Google, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube social media platforms think the way to persuade people to their ideas is to cheat them out of contrary opinions. 

The Media Research Center has produced a report titled “Censored” on how and to what extent popular social media are trying to “persuade” people to their way of thinking, not through the common sense of their ideas or the power of their argument, but by keeping people from seeing other points of view.

Authors Ashley Rae Goldenberg and Dan Gainor tell us that social media influences our worldview and can even influence elections. “Americans are seeing the results everywhere online. Conservative spokespeople, political candidates, even members of Congress, are falling victim to censors and the top tech firms are to blame.”

The article addresses claims of liberal bias and censorship against Twitter, Facebook, Google and YouTube individually, listing the claims and evaluating them, showing that the claims are supported by evidence.

These include such things as that Twitter censors conservative tweets pro-life ads, and censors content that governments find objectionable.

Liberal attitudes are at the core of Facebook and it censors pro-life advertising. Facebook’s algorithms filter what things its members can see, and it also blocked the “Diamond and Silk” girls’ posts, calling their content “dangerous.” Have you ever seen Diamond and Silk? Dangerous?

Google’s fact-checking system and algorithm contain an anti-conservative bias, and its News Lab partners with the radical Southern Poverty Law Center to identify “hate.”

Charges against YouTube mirror those previously mentioned for the other three media.

Is it that these folks have so little faith in their way of thinking that they don’t trust it to stand up against contrary ideas? Or do they not want to go to the trouble of actual debate and take a chance on losing in the marketplace of free ideas?

Whatever the motivation, using their ability to control what their customers or users see is truly otherworldly.

Liars, cheaters and cowards, oh my!

Faced with unpopular ideas, so many in our country are convinced that the appropriate reaction is to hold their breath, sob uncontrollably, stomp their feet, run to their safe space and demand that the speaker of these ideas shut up.

Private businesses or organizations can control what their Websites show. No argument there. The question, however, is not whether they can, but whether they should? Politics and business is a bad combination, and in these instances is quite dangerous.

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