Valedictorian’s professional license in jeopardy over graduation speech on life, love
Academic freedom is under global assault. Students and professors in places of higher learning around the world are forced to censor what they say or suffer the consequences.
Despite the fact that we all possess the inherent human right to freedom of speech, now more than ever, we are being silenced and sanctioned in the classroom.
A startling case of academic censorship currently is being adjudicated in Mexico. Christian Cortez Pérez, a university student who was valedictorian of his class, may lose his license to practice psychology because of his graduation speech in June.
Pérez was a star student — top of his class at Mexico’s Autonomous University of Baja California’s School of Medicine and Psychology. Following his impassioned commencement address about the sanctity of life and protection of the family, Pérez’s professors initiated a campaign to cancel his career.
Specifically, university professors came together to produce a “manifesto” outlining their complaints about the speech. They delivered the manifesto to the university, calling for the school to withdraw Pérez’s academic merit award, withhold his professional license, and issue a nationwide notice to psychology associations.
The university has launched formal proceedings against Pérez, threatening the very career he enrolled at the university to pursue.
In his graduation speech, Pérez delivered this message: “Today, we are deep into a real anthropological struggle to redefine the human being, the human person, man, through the implementation of ideologies and fashions of thought that always end up undermining dignity and freedom.”
Devoid of hatred or ill will of any kind, he encouraged his peers to live in solidarity with one another, stating: “You have to love. No one seeks the good of the other if he does not love him.”
For expressing views shared by many, Pérez now could suffer irrevocable professional and personal damage.
He responded with a counterclaim to the university, noting, “Public universities must respect the free speech rights of all students, and I am committed to obtaining justice not just for myself but for all Mexicans interested in preserving the right to freely express themselves.”
In response to his opponents, Pérez takes an unequivocal stance in favor of free speech for all.
“To those that disagree with me,” he wrote, “I have one response: I firmly respect your right to freedom of speech too.”
Academic censorship is a problem across the world, and Christian Pérez is but one brave example of what it looks like to stand up for free speech.
Public universities should be marketplaces of ideas, not assembly lines for one type of thought. Moreover, it is deeply unjust for professors to wield this kind of power over their students.
If the vindictive attack on Pérez is successful, he risks losing everything he has worked for, and we all stand to lose from the undermining of free speech rights.
Although it seemingly is far away in Mexico, the outcome of this case will reverberate globally and send a clear signal about the right to speak one’s mind — not only in school, but beyond.
Stifling free debate in academic settings has cataclysmic results for society as a whole. Now is the time to reject dangerous censorship campaigns that threaten all fundamental freedoms.
As Christian Pérez awaits judgment from his university, let us raise a resounding cry in defense of his free speech rights. You don’t have to agree with what he said, just his right to say it.
Originally published at The Daily Signal.
Kristina Hjelkrem is legal counsel for Latin America with ADF International, a faith-based legal advocacy organization that protects fundamental freedoms and promotes the inherent dignity of all persons.