Honesty and free speech

I have a few thoughts on Dustin Lane’s guest column in last Sunday’s paper called Protecting Free Speech on Campus. Being a supporter of free speech and working on a university campus. I was interested in hearing what Mr. Lane had to say. He started by summarizing the situation on college campuses where he believes free speech is under attack, as evidenced by Representative Brisco Cain being shouted down by protesters when he tried to talk to a meeting of the Federalist Society at Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law, and the fact that many universities such as Texas State have free speech zones that Lane describes as “restricting where students can make use of their First Amendment Rights.”

Sounds pretty dire. But I was also suspicious of the tone of Lane’s comments, so I started to dig a bit. First, Dustin Lane is the Texas Field Director of Generation Opportunity. I had not heard of Generation Opportunity before so I looked it up. According to Source Watch (which among other things tracks donations in political campaigns) Generation Opportunity is a non-profit organization based in Arlington, Virginia, that received almost 90 percent of its funding from two Koch Brothers-financed groups. The organization apparently plans events and social media campaigns that are primarily the mechanism for covertly delivering conservative and libertarian messages to university students. What really bothers me is Generation Opportunity’s secrecy. It does not list who works for the organization or the composition of its Board of Directors. I am always suspicious of the goals of secret organizations. Supporting free speech seems a laudable goal. Why the secrecy?

As to Briscoe Cain, I wasn’t aware of who he was or how he was treated at Texas Southern so I looked that up too. I found a news article on the event last October at KHOU.com. Mr. Cain is a conservative member of the Texas Legislature and was invited to speak by a student member of a local chapter of the Federalist Society. This is a libertarian-leaning organization based in Washington, DC that seeks to reform the American legal system by supporting judges who are “originalists” in their interpretation of the Constitution. This means the Constitution should be interpreted only in the manner that its authors meant at the time they wrote it. Members of the conservative wing of the Supreme Court such as the late Justice Antonin Scalia and our newest Justice Neil Gorsuch are examples of this perspective. The people protesting Cain’s talk chanted “No hate anywhere, you don’t get a platform here,” and drowned out Cain’s comments. They claimed that Cain has ties to the Alt-Right movement (these are the folks organizing the night march in Charlotte, North Carolina last summer with the swastikas and torches) and is against the LBGT community. The protestors described Cain as racist. I don’t know anything about Briscoe Cain or his personal beliefs, but I do know that if you ask a person who is perceived as a racist to speak at a historically black university, at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law for goodness sake, you are pouring gasoline on a fire. The situation was so obviously planned to incite a reaction from TSU students that it makes me wonder if that reaction was actually the point of Cain’s invitation?

I am just as much for free speech as Dustin Lane, and I don’t think free speech has to be only speech I like. But I do think a society requires a certain amount of respect and consideration between its participants. Young white men wearing swastika armbands and chanting “Jews will not replace us” as happened in Charlotte last summer, or misrepresenting your true political motives under the guise of free speech as Mr. Lane does in his column, violates the social contract that holds society together. Everyone has the right to their opinion, but they should be honest about who and what they are. Dustin Lane writes that he will be on the Texas State campus on January 31 at the LBJ Student Center. Come hear him speak.

Jon McGee is a resident of San Marcos

San Marcos Daily Record

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