By Denis Horgan, Sr. and Mitchell W. Pearlman
Issues of Free Speech and public access to government information are in today’s headlines as much as they were in the minds of the nation’s Founders when they developed the First Amendment to the United States Constitution more than two centuries ago.
Developments in Washington, Hartford and in town centers across Connecticut demonstrate that Free Speech is a treasured American liberty but one constantly under assault. These are the public’s liberties and the public needs to be unendingly vigilant to protect them. That begins with education.
With this in mind, CFOG piloted a new project, “Introduction to the Concept of Freedom of Speech,” leading up to and during “National Sunshine Week,” March 12-18, 2017. The intent of this effort was to introduce high school and college students to the important intersecting rights of free speech, a free press, academic freedom and democratic governance. As part of the project’s kick-off, two-member teams, comprised of an attorney and a journalist, presented a specially developed curriculum in high schools, colleges and libraries across the state.
Initial sites in the pilot program included East Lyme High School, Lyman Hall High School, the University of Connecticut, Central Connecticut State University, Western Connecticut State University and Quinnipiac University. In addition, libraries in Columbia and Old Saybrook hosted CFOG’s presentation as part of their young adult education series.
Presenters not only examined the history of Free Speech in America but examined ways that citizens – including students – can utilize laws and modern technology to protect their speech and get access to information being closely held by the government.
In authorizing this program, CFOG’s board of directors was distressed to learn that some college students – on both the left and the right of the political spectrum – are demanding that speakers who disagree with their views be prevented or “disinvited” from speaking on campus. Some are even insisting that their campus should be a “safe space,” free from what in their opinion is hateful or contrary speech and also free from media coverage of newsworthy events.
CFOG wants students to think about the consequences of limiting speech. If all sides taking this position get their way, students will no longer be able to hear and debate differing points of view. Only the orthodoxy of the day will be permitted. Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom will be lost at of all places, the place where the minds of future generations of citizens are supposed to be fertilized and developed.