A number of years ago, you could see bastions of Free Speech everywhere. Campuses were bustling with political opinions and demonstrations. The ACLU was fighting for the rights and liberties of individuals so they could use their 1st Amendment rights. Meanwhile, the internet allowed people to express themselves in revolutionary ways. Without a doubt, these were bastions of free speech. However, looking at them today, you will only see a shell. But what has caused the fall of these institutions? And in today’s modern age, where are the true bastions of Free Speech?
Bastions of Free Speech Have Falling
In the modern era, most of the United States’ bastions are going through an identity crisis. From public universities, the ACLU, and even the Internet. It seems like these institutions have fallen from grace, especially when it comes to First Amendment rights? But what made these institutions so recognized and how has the current era changed them?
Universities - Free Speech Movement is Gone
For decades, universities were the center of the Free Speech Movement. This movement put Berkley University on the map as it held the longest student protest. In the 1960s, it became clear that Freedom of Speech would be upheld in higher education. As a result, restrictions on free speech in public colleges and universities is considered a violation of the 1st Amendment. However, modern universities have thrown the Free Speech Movement into the garbage.
Hyperbolic? Maybe. However, that is the most accurate way to describe it. Because over the years, freedom of speech has gone silent on campus. Although campuses are supposed to uphold the 1st Amendment, recent policies and actions have made it clear people’s rights are not valued. Well, unless people share a similar view. The Freedom Forum Institute's ARE UNIVERSITIES NO LONGER “BASTIONS OF FREE EXPRESSION”?, exposes a troubling pattern occurring. Newseum President and CEO Jeffrey Herbst said censorship of silence has been growing on campuses. Many students are being intimidated into silence because of the political climate on campus. And who can blame them?
After all, there are many stories about censorship and political bias on campus. Organizations like Fire, actively make lists about institutions that are violating 1st Amendment rights. From the firing of Kimberly Diei for her personal social media activities to New York University silencing medical faculty over the COVID-19 pandemic, universities are violating people’s rights. Despite the efforts of different organizations, a surprising silence from another bastion is showing its cracks.
Who Are the ACLU Now?
Since the ACLU’s founding in the 1920s, the institution prided itself in protecting freedom of expression. Regardless if the ideas were popular or not, the ACLU fought for 1st Amendment rights. In fact, when discussing Speech on Campus, the ACLU stated that silencing bigotry is not the answer. Rather there should be more speech. The ACLU proved they were a Bastion of Free Speech by fighting in courts over censorship laws and other injustices. However, as the New York Times states, the ACLU is going through an identity crisis.
According to Slavoj Zizek, modern forms of speech have become totalitarian. In summary, it is easy to point at the KKK and dictators as enemies. However, the restriction of speech has allowed “enforced niceness” to obscure oppressive power structures. Which explains why the ACLU is failing as a bastion of free speech. According to David Goldberger, a lawyer that defended Nazi’s rights to speak in the 1970s has become uneasy with the state of the organization. Internal discourse within the ACLU has been driving it away from its founding principle - the unconditional support of the First Amendment.
After the ACLU of Virginia stood up for the groups in Charlottesville, revolution was seen by some in the ACLU, asking lawyers to reconsider supporting far-right groups if their values challenge theirs and offend marginalized groups. Despite the ACLU saying nothing has changed, Floyd Abrams disagrees.
“The last thing they should be thinking about in a case is which ideological side profits. The A.C.L.U. that used to exist would have said exactly the opposite.”
However, there is one last bastion to talk about. In fact, one that the ACLU helped get recognized as such.
The Internet Should Be A Bastion of Free Speech
The birth of the Internet started a counterculture of openness, freedom, and transparency. Instead of hiding information away, the Internet grew on the principles of sharing ideas. Because of this, the Internet from the start has always been about the 1st Amendment. It is built in the infrastructure. However, during the early years of the Internet, some regulations threatened that. However, in 1996, the Supreme Court ruling during the ACLU vs Reno case changed everything. The Internet was now protected by the 1st Amendment. Meaning the Internet evolved into a true bastion on free speech. Where people could express themselves. In fact, it is the largest participant of freedom expression around.
However, the need to restrict and control the Internet has not changed. And it is eroding this bastion. Social media corporations setting restrictions for the Internet and the emergence of the Sovereign Internet from China, Russia, and other nations. Worse is the attempt to repeal laws like Section 230, which has more consequences than people believe when it comes to free speech and other laws meant to control what can be said.
So where are the true Bastions of Free Speech? Well….they are disappearing. However, they don’t have to. In fact, bastions like the Internet are something we can protect by supporting sites that are devoted to freedom of speech. Staying active and vocal when policies are bad. In addition, supporting organizations that will help protect these rights.