Tuesday Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration will put its weight behind student free-speech complaints against public universities, in a speech at Georgetown University Law that predictably sparked student and faculty protests.
The speech mentioned widely covered recent student protests that descended into violence such as at Middlebury College in Vermont and the University of California at Berkeley, and called for colleges and universities to champion a constitutionally protected American right and the culture necessary to undergird it. Sessions also gave a basic explainer about why it’s important that we continue to protect and cherish our First Amendment rights, even though they sometimes allow others to do things we don’t like.
But even setting aside the law, the more fundamental issue is that the university is supposed to be the place where we train virtuous citizens. It is where the next generation of Americans are equipped to contribute to and live in a diverse and free society filled with many, often contrary, voices.
Our legal heritage, upon which the Founders crafted the Bill of Rights, taught that reason and knowledge produced the closest approximation to truth—and from truth may arise justice. But reason requires discourse and, frequently, argument. And that is why the free speech guarantee is found not just in the First Amendment, but also permeates our institutions, our traditions, and our Constitution.
The jury trial, the right to cross-examine witnesses, the Speech & Debate Clause, the very art and practice of lawyering—all of these are rooted in the idea that speech, reason, and confrontation are the very bedrock of a good society. In fact, these practices are designed to ascertain what is the truth. And from that truth, good policies and actions can be founded.
Reading it, one might wonder why Sessions would take the time to say such rather obvious things. To provoke leftist protesters into making positive reactionary publicity for him? That’s the cynical answer, which in the political world is very often the true one, but to judge by the reactions to Sessions’ speech it appears many Americans do indeed need a free speech 101 class.
[Read the rest of the article originally posted at The Federalist on September 27, 2017 here.]