Seeking consistency when it comes to free speech

Photo: Chris Carlson | Associated Press

Two items in the news today show the inconsistency we have toward the issue of free speech.

Last night, San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem. He did so on military appreciation night, which some say is particularly galling since they believe the National Anthem is about the military.

“Once again, I’m not anti-American,” Kaepernick said. “I love America. I love people. That’s why I’m doing this. I want to help make America better. I think having these conversations helps everybody have a better understanding of where everybody is coming from.

“Those conversations are important to have because the better we understand each other, the better we know each other, the better we can deal and communicate with each other which ultimately makes everyone, puts everybody in a better position.”

It’s only a matter of time before this dispute spreads to the stands.

In Chicago, meanwhile, the University of Chicago has its own free speech battle after the dean sent a letter to incoming students advising them the university will not require trigger warnings nor provide safe spaces to isolate them from speech they might find troubling.

’’Invited speakers are disinvited because a segment of a university community deems them offensive, while other orators are shouted down for similar reasons,’’ University president Dr. Robert J. Zimmer added.

That brings applause today in an editorial in the Boston Globe, which says the university is making clear “that the students at the University of Chicago will not be treated as fragile snowflakes, to be sheltered at all costs from disturbing, unfamiliar, or distressing points of view.”

In much of American academia lately, the notion that intellectual growth can involve — should involve — grappling with unpleasant or uncongenial ideas has become taboo. Professors have been silenced or disciplined for saying or publishing things some students resented. Students have been punished for speaking freely about hot-button issues. Universities have promulgated dangerously illiberal speech codes, commencement speakers have been denounced and disinvited, and the orthodoxies of political correctness have been enforced with Star Chamber severity.

At the University of Chicago, students should anticipate none of that.

“Our commitment to academic freedom,” wrote Dean Ellison, “means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”

It is a troubling sign of the times that college freshmen should require such a message.

Perhaps it’s not just college freshmen.