Freedom of Speech under Assault on Campus
Freedom of speech has been severely criticized at many American universities. Meanwhile, such prestigious transnational institutions as the United Nations and the European Union have endorsed censorship of hate speech, as well as denial of Holocaust and climate change, and even blasphemy.
Those trends are antithetical to classically liberal ideals about both the freedom of speech and the purpose of the university. John Stuart Mill thought higher education should not tell us what it is our duty to believe, but should “help us to form our own belief in a manner worthy of intelligent beings.” He added that “there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine,” regardless of its falsity, immorality, or even harmfulness.
The classical liberal argument for free speech has historically been championed in two distinct ways. First, the Founding documents of the United States recognize freedom of speech as a natural right. Second, alternatively, that right might be grounded in utility, meaning its acceptance best promotes human flourishing. Ironically, the very trends on campus that threaten freedom of speech also lend strong support to both justifications for it.