WASHINGTON – College campuses are historically safe places for free speech. But many of those so-called homes of higher learning are bowing to censorship.
Free speech advocates warn the growing movement to shut down certain speakers and opinions on college campuses threatens First Amendment rights.
Berkeley was ripped up in February 2017 by rioters who didn't want a commentator from the conservative Breitbart website to speak on campus.
Student Mob Causes Concussion, Whiplash
In March 2017, angry students at Vermont's Middlebury campus shouted down and turned their backs on controversial author Charles Murray, who some label a racist.
Then Middlebury Professor Allison Stanger was assaulted as she helped Murray push through a student mob.
"I suffered a concussion and whiplash," Stanger told CBN News. "Somebody pulled my hair and body-slammed me in the opposite direction."
Fury broke out again at Berkeley but didn't stop conservative firebrand Ben Shapiro from speaking there in September 2017.
Verbiage = Violence, So Revenge Justified
He told CBN News, "There's an enormous group of people on the Left who now identify verbiage with violence. They identify words with violence."
Shapiro paraphrased how they'd verbalize what this justifies, saying, "If I don't like what that you say, and I have an emotional reaction to it and it causes me stress and I have a physical reaction, well, that's you actually doing harm to me. And now I'm justified in using physical violence in order to prevent you from doing further harm to me. This is really dangerous stuff."
At Washington, DC's Georgetown University in May 2018 some students were protesting that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was allowed to speak. His topic, ironically enough: attacks on free speech at US colleges.
Students at Washington's Evergreen State College basically forced Professor Bret Weinstein to resign when he wouldn't endorse an April 2017 day of No Whites on Campus and then refused to apologize.
Students Hiding Behind Locked Doors to Talk Politics
Now the schools themselves are buying into the trend. The University of Michigan has what critics assert is an incredibly vague speech code and roving Bias Response Teams.
More than 230 colleges have fielded such teams on their campuses. Michigan's has investigated more than 150 reports of "expression of bias" since it formed up in April 2017.
Critics say these teams intimidate many students, who worry they'll be punished if their words are judged to be politically incorrect.
The student advocacy group Speech First is suing the Michigan university over its intimidation tactics and squelching of free speech.
Speech First President Nicki Neily said of the speech code there, "It is so vague and so sliding that you think what that means is you need to tailor your speech to what the most sensitive student on campus might interpret your words as."
None of this is based on objective facts about what might actually be discriminatory or hateful.
Neily said of the university, "It says the most important indication of whether there's a bias incident are 'your own feelings.'"
And she said of many of the students, "They're afraid to talk about politics. So they go into their dorm room and they lock their door."
Entire Marching Band Punished
One example of the University of Michigan's extreme actions involved punishing the marching band when various sections of the band dressed like different kinds of music.
"One section wore backwards hats and baggy shorts and they were Rap. Someone walked by, they saw it, they filed a complaint. And the 400-member marching band had to go through several hours of cultural appropriation training," Neily said.
Congress is also hearing about such extreme incidents. At a recent hearing about the threat to free speech on campuses, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said, "Administrators at a community college forced an 8-year Navy veteran to stop distributing – now get this – pocket-size U.S. Constitutions."
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) referred to the student mob at Middlebury, saying, "When a group of students menaced and assaulted Professor Stanger who was with Charles Murray, this was outrageous and conservatives denounced it. Liberals should be denouncing it, too."
'We Will Crush You, We Will Expel You'
Speaking of such violent actions and attitudes, Oklahoma Wesleyan President Everett Piper said on CBN's 700 Club, "We are actually telling people – conservative speakers primarily, 'if you don't agree with us, if you're not one of us, if you're not a part of the fascist, the common bond of ideas, we will crush you. We will expel you. You're verboten. You're unwelcome.'"
Many colleges are limiting controversial talk to free speech zones.
"America is a free speech zone!" Neily protested.
Lawyer Tyson Langhofer of the Alliance Defending Freedom told CBN News, "Students don't need a permit to speak on campus. The only permit they need is the First Amendment."
College Shouldn't Be a Day Care Where You're Coddled
Neily feels young students need to be challenged and shaken up by opposing views.
"College is not meant to be a safe space," she asserted. "College is meant to be a place for discourse where you exchange ideas, where you pursue truth. It is not meant to be a place where you are coddled."
A frustrated Piper explained, "We're at the point now in our culture and our colleges where if your character is challenged and you're uncomfortable, you can throw a trigger warning and a victimization card and call out a micro-aggression and ask for those ideas to be silenced."
As he told his students in a letter distributed to the entire student body at his university, "This is not a day care."
Both Democracy and Learning Endangered
At that congressional hearing, Congressman Raskin asserted, "We do need an aggressive defense on campus of the Enlightenment principle articulated by Voltaire: 'I disagree with everything you say, but I will defend with my life your right to say it.'"
At that same hearing, leading Christian philosopher Professor Robert George told CBN News much is at stake if colleges silence free speech.
"American democracy and higher education both depend on freedom of thought and expression," George stated. "People need to be free, people need to feel free to speak their minds."
He concluded, "if we create a situation in which people feel that they cannot speak freely, we will undermine the conditions of both democracy and learning."
Frightened by Those Wielding Too Much Power
Neily feels this threat to democracy way down to her bones because of what happened in her own family's past during World War II. She's Japanese-American and her grandparents met in one of the internment camps where the U.S. imprisoned more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans during the war with Japan and Nazi Germany.
She said she's frightened about these draconian restrictions college administrations are slapping on their students in the name of protecting them.
Remembering her imprisoned grandparents, she said, "The reason I don't want these arbitrary government systems in place is because I know that a government that's big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take it all away – because it did."