Our President Donald Trump says National Football League owners should fire football players who take a knee during the national anthem. Black Lives Matter activist came to fame by shutting down the free speech of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. A growing number of college students think it’s acceptable to use violence to stop speech they deem offensive. What’s happening in America? Is free speech dead? Is America going the way of China, Russia or North Korea? Are we disregarding the foundation that American society is built upon, the American Constitution? Are we disregarding the lessons of American statesman Martin Luther King Jr, the one who taught America the true way to protest, resist and force change?
President Trump’s call for NFL owners to fire Players for exercising their rights is troubling at best and un-American at worst. Unfortunately since a player of Colin Kaepernick’s proven abilities can’t find employment in the league it would seem that the owners are of like mind.
The first blurring of the line between political protest and political violence can be traced back to Black Lives Matter. The bold and courageous movement led by millennial Americans unfortunately has been misinformed on how to protest and the difference between political protest and political violence.
Black Lives Matter protesters at rallies for Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton started the new practice of jumping on the stage while they were speaking. The protesters would stand in front of them shouting out their own speech and denying Clinton or Sanders the ability to speak. Due to the rightness of their cause the candidates allowed them the stage and the media gave them huge coverage. The cause is 100% correct the methodology was and is 100% wrong. In fact it’s violent. Dr. King taught us non-violence is not merely the absence of physical assault. Denying anyone the right of free speech at their own rally is violence.
Apparently this attitude is not limited to the Black Lives Matter Movement. According to a Brookings Institute national survey of 1,500 current undergraduate students at U.S. four-year colleges and universities with geographically diverse respondents from 49 states and the District of Columbia, when students were asked the following:
A student group opposed to the speaker disrupts the speech by loudly and repeatedly shouting so that the audience cannot hear the speaker. Do you agree or disagree that the student group’s actions are acceptable?
51% of respondents said it was acceptable to silence (by shouting) a speaker they find offensive, 19% said it was acceptable to use physical violence to stop speech they found offensive. The survey finds support for another disturbing practice of conservative speakers being unwelcome to exercise their right of free speech.
When students were asked if hate speech was protected 44% said no only 39% said it was, some conservative commentators are thought to be spreading “hate speech” by many in the academic community. Because of the controversy created among students by their appearances many colleges cancel them, like was the case with “Free Speech Week” at the University of California, Berkeley, which would have served as a speaking platform for conservative firebrands like Steve Bannon, author Ann Coulter, and Milo Yiannopoulos, it has officially been called off, the university announced Saturday.
More disturbing than our nation’s leader seemingly not understanding or comprehending America’s First Amendment, is the lack of understanding or appreciation by our college students. After all as the survey points out today’s college students are tomorrow’s attorneys, teachers, professors, policymakers, legislators, and judges. If, for example, a large fraction of college students believe, however incorrectly, that offensive speech is unprotected by the First Amendment, that view will inform the decisions they make as they move into positions of increasing authority later in their careers.
Dr. King in his last speech to the nation April 3, 1968 the night before he was assassinated said:
“All we say to America is, ‘Be true to what you said on paper.’ If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.”
President Trump, Black Lives Matter and college undergrads all need to take a step back and do 2 things:
1) Read or re-read our great American Constitution that our founding fathers wrote, particularly the First Amendment
2) Remember how Martin Luther King Jr taught us how to protest, resist and force change, NON-VIOLENTLY
The thing that distinguishes America from all other countries of the earth is the freedom ethic that is embedded in American culture as Dr. King reminded us, American greatness lives in our right of free speech and in our right to protest for rights!
Isaac Newton Farris Jr. is the nephew of Martin Luther King, Jr. and serves as Senior Fellow at the King Center. Growing up in one of the most socially and politically active families has given him a unique perspective into current events. Drop by his blog for straight talk free of one-sided political spin.