Mar 282005
Authors: Tyler Wittman

Last week, I wrote about two recent developments relating to free speech that were particularly alarming. The first concerned a group of Christians in Philadelphia who were reading scripture on the sidewalk during a gay parade.

Gay activists then surrounded them and drowned them out, and the Christians were arrested for a litany of outrageous charges that included ethnic intimidation (saying homosexuality is a sin) and inciting a riot (they read the Bible, and no riot occurred). The second instance was the Jefferson County School District wanting students to tell on one another for "hate speech."

I would like to continue once more in our tour of "free" speech incidents by looking at the remarks by Larry Summers, the president of Harvard, who made headlines when he cited scientific studies in front of fellow scholars. For those who don't know, Summers was asked to speak at a conference as a scholar, not as the president of Harvard, on the shortage of women with tenured positions in the scientific and engineering fields.

He basically said that there were differences between men and women. He also showed how men are better than women at some things, and vice versa. How dare he?

Summers' chief mistake, having seen the harsh backlash he endured, was challenging academia's dogma of feminism. It seems that to do such a thing – to challenge the system – is malfeasance. I'm sure Ward Churchill could tell you that. On one hand you have the majority of academics calling for Summers' head, while on the other hand they're supporting Churchill's "academic freedom." Which way is it? It appears to be an example of playing favorites, something commonly done on an elementary school playground but all too often found outside of it.

All these cases show glaring problems with the state of speaking freely. In the Philadelphia case, we find Christians doing nothing harmful to those around them and then being surrounded by a mob, having their right to speak freely obstructed, then getting arrested for it. The big thing here is that they were arrested for reading God's word.

Philadelphia prosecutors then likened the Bible to a hateful text, whose reading is an act of hate and apparently can get you taken to jail. This part, while not particularly surprising to any adept Christian, is what's so outrageous. If we take it to the extreme, then reading the Bible is outlawed.

I do not advocate racist, malicious or slanderous speech, and certain establishments should have rules in place that take action against this type of behavior. On the same note, Jefferson County schools should encourage a positive environment free of slanderous speech, but a 'McCarthyesque' approach that encourages kids to tell on their friends is a little absurd. They should be educated in school about the effects of such speech, not expelled or suspended for it.

Finally, Larry Summers and Ward Churchill are perfect examples of knowing when to speak and when not to speak. The difference there is that one man was citing facts and the other made a tasteless comparison in a sophomoric essay that has inadvertently exposed his lack of scholarship. Where's the consistency, however, in the treatment of these men?

If we don't quickly loosen the grip that extremely politically correct thinking has on our society, we will unnecessarily suffocate from our own inaction. The Bible states in Matthew Chapter 12 that our words will justify us or condemn us. There are consequences for what we say, but we shouldn't have a gun pointed down our throat keeping us from expressing an opinion or reading a book aloud.

Tyler Wittman is a junior speech communications major. His column runs every Tuesday in the Collegian.

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