A surprising menace to free speech lurks on school campuses around the country – an outbrake of being “nice.” I’m not talking about being polite, considerate, or thoughtful. Those traits should be valued and pursued diligently. Being nice is usually viewed as the opposite of being “mean,” and students are considered “mean” if they dare to disagree with a classmate on practically anything except their favorite ice cream flavor.
Several years ago Chase Harper dared to disagree with his Poway High School teachers’ insistence that homosexual behavior is completely healthy and something to be celebrated. He was sent home for engaging in “offensive” and “derogatory” speech. More recently Jen Keeton made the terrible mistake of expressing to her classmates at Augusta State University that she thought she could help people who wanted out of the homosexual lifestyle. She was kicked out of her counseling masters program. And just this Fall students in a Christian group at Snow College in Utah were told that they couldn’t participate in homecoming festivities by painting a mural with a cross because one of the school officials was offended by it.
Students from grade school to grad school are being conditioned to believe they should keep quiet if what they say might possibly offend someone – even if that is not their intent at all. Failure to adjust their speech to avoid anything other students or administrators may perceive as offensive is considered mean spirited. Or even worse, they risk being labeled with the dreaded “B” word – “Bully.”
Students expressing views that align with biblical morality are especially at risk. That’s because “truth” is no longer something that can be determined in an objective sense, but is an idea each person must discover for themselves, like figuring out which flavor of ice cream you like best. But I digress. The real issue is whether we as a society will allow our students to express views that others may not like, and may even be offended by.
The answer is a resounding “yes.” As the Supreme Court determined in Texas v. Johnson (where a communist activist was arrested for burning an American flag) these are exactly the kind of views the First Amendment was designed to protect. We don’t need a law protecting speech everyone agrees with, because no one wants to censor “nice” speech. But if that’s all our students are allowed to express, then that’s pretty much all we are likely hear in the new future – politically correct niceness.