Is Free Speech Out of Our Kids’ Reach?

free-speech-childrenThe other day I wrote a sharply worded but sensible response to a Facebook post. Then I paused, highlighted the text and hit “Delete.”

Why?

I was afraid. Afraid someone might use what I wrote against me. Afraid readers might interpret it in a manner that didn’t reflect what was in my heart. Afraid it would come back to haunt me in some way.

Welcome to 2015. And it’s only gonna get worse.

We’re living in frightening times when it comes to free speech. When celebrities lose gigs for saying the wrong thing we chuckle, or tweet our bemused reactions or simply swallow hard. That could have been me.

What does this have to do with my children … and yours?

There’s Plenty Wrong with That

Jerry Seinfeld, one of our culture’s most beloved comics, won’t perform for college crowds anymore due to the politically correct mindset at most universities.

Seinfeld might be the cleanest comic this side of Jim Gaffigan, and he fears saying the wrong thing to college students. You know the ones who supposedly guzzle beer, flirt at fraternity parties and scamper nude across campus. They’re now too delicate to hear a joke that might nudge them out of their comfort zones. Or make them think, for that matter.

Does anyone believe that mindset starts at the college level? I suspect the roots of that behavior begin in public school, probably as teens start wondering about the culture at large and where they fit in.

Related: Why Parents Should Fear the Media

My young sons often talk without a filter. It’s what kids do, and they rarely get in serious trouble for it. That won’t last. Someday soon they’ll say the wrong thing and suffer the consequences. That can be positive at times. In other situations speech should be tackled head on. For example, I explained to my son this morning how taunting a fellow student who suffers from SFS (stinky feet syndrome) is cruel. How would you like it if other students started to pick on you?

Few of us would defend free speech that is truly ugly or cruel. This isn’t about that, though. It’s the other kind of thinking, the kind that isn’t embraced in certain social circles but deserves a fair hearing all the same.

I wasn’t totally honest about that Facebook response I wrote. I ended up sharing it with the person who penned the original comment via email. That felt safer, and I still got my comment off my chest. His response made me feel, well, wimpy. He said he had a similar impulse but he posted it all the same.

“At some point I get tired of being afraid to express my opinion.”

I played it safe. He didn’t. Sometimes opinions don’t matter much. One Facebook post won’t change the world, right?

If enough of us take that approach, and stay silent long enough, the country my children and yours inherit will be a sad and scary place.

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