Bethlehem, Not Berkeley, Is the Birthplace of Free Speech

Demonstrators for (R) and against (L) U.S. President Donald Trump push a garbage container toward each other during a rally in Berkeley, California in Berkeley, California, U.S., April 15, 2017.
Demonstrators for (R) and against (L) U.S. President Donald Trump push a garbage container toward each other during a rally in Berkeley, California in Berkeley, California, U.S., April 15, 2017. | (Photo: REUTERS/Stephen Lam)

It seems that hardly a day goes by when the call for "safe spaces" and "speech codes" is not headline news. Every week there are too many stories to count of colleges and universities showing themselves to be more bastions of ideological fascism than bulwarks of intellectual liberty; where students and faculty alike seem to be more passionate about restricting debate than they are about defending the freedom to disagree.

This week's victim of the snowflake rebellion is Ann Coulter, whose invitation to speak ​at ​UC Berkeley was rescinded after student protests.

I am not writing to affirm or refute Ann Coulter or her views. I am writing to implore Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks — and all other leaders of America's educational community — to remember our industry's rich history of the liberal arts. I am writing to plead with my colleagues to stand firm for the academy's millennia-old commitment to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of inquiry,​ and freedom of thought. I am writing on behalf of liberty. I am writing because I believe in classical liberalism. I am writing because I believe in human freedom. I am writing because I believe in truth.

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What has happened to the Ivory Tower? Whatever became​ of​ the free exchange of ideas? Whatever happened to the value of a good argument? When did the desire to learn become supplanted by the "right" to be affirmed? When did education become more interested in celebrating personal feelings than pursuing objective facts?

The answer to the riots and rebellion that Berkeley and many other college campuses are facing is not found in the tyranny of false "tolerance" or the ideological safety of "trigger warnings." It isn't found in more restrictions and more legalism. It isn't found in perpetuating victimization, violence, or vengeance. It is found in returning to the age-old mission of the liberal arts academy: In veritas in the pursuit of truth and in its desired behavioral outcome: the practice and virtue of love. As C.S. Lewis told us in the Chronicles of Narnia, it is found in what is good, not in what is safe.

Chancellor Dirks has stated that Berkeley is the home of the Free Speech Movement. I would beg to differ. Human freedom, intellectual or otherwise, was not born in Berkeley, California but rather in a community called Bethlehem some two thousand years ago. The fundamental principles of higher education are grounded in the words of the Word; that Truth that was made flesh and dwelled​ among us – In the Logos – in the eternal preexistent "alphabet:" the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.

The very freedom Dr. Dirks and all others of his ilk claim to hold so dear finds its home not at a campus near the sandy beaches of our West Coast, but rather in a stable under the stars in ancient Israel. Free speech (at Berkeley or anywhere else for that matter) has never been achieved outside of the context of the foundational admonition – dare I say biblical admonition – stated very succinctly in Berkeley's own founding motto: "Fiat Lux - Let there be Light."

Serious educators ought to be guided by the implied objectivity of that "Light" — by the immutable and not the ​malleable, by the right, the just and the True, not by the transient constructs of tolerance, trigger warnings, safe spaces, microaggressions, and whatever happens to be politically correct on a given day.

As Os Guinness said: "All truth is true even if no one believes it, and all falsehood is false even if everyone believes it. Truth is true and that's just the end of it."

The goal of the university, whether it be Berkeley or Baylor, Oklahoma State or Oklahoma Wesleyan should be what is factual and not the newest fluid fad.

Honesty demands that we boldly pursue ideas tested by time, defended by reason, validated by experience, and confirmed by revelation. We will only find truth when we place our confidence in it and not in ourselves. We will only learn when we love truth enough to measure all ideas with a measuring rod outside of those things being measured and are willing to discard those ideas we find to be "intolerable," inferior, and useless.

History has taught us time and again that political power always raises its angry fist when timeless principles are lost. We know that without the scale of "self-evident truths" grounded in the "laws of nature and nature's God," every culture eventually finds itself subject to the rule of the gang or the tyranny of the individual. Recognizing this, scholars of all ages have confidently given their hearts and minds to the words, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free."

If the Berkeley protests prove anything it is this: Free speech was not born on the coasts of California but rather in a cradle in Canaan. Human freedom does not find its birthright in the academy but rather in a humble cave. Dr. Dirks as well as his students and faculty would do well to remember this and let Ann Coulter speak.

Dr. Everett Piper is president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University and author of Not a Day Care: Why a Coddled Nation is a Crippled Nation, due to be released in August via Regnery.

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