Incoming freshmen at the University of Chicago received a blunt warning about free speech.
“You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion and even disagreement,” the dean of students wrote in a welcoming letter to the class of 2020. “At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.”
No safe zones. No trigger warnings. No invited speakers uninvited because they’re views provoke some dissent.
It’s a welcome contrast to a recent trend in which universities — public and private — have enacted speech codes and imposed other restrictions under the guise of protecting sensitive young people from views they don’t share.
Of course, academia isn’t the only place where free expression isn’t always welcome.
Ask Colin Kaepernick.
Unless you’ve been cloistered in a media-free safe zone, you know that Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, didn’t stand for the national anthem prior to this past Friday’s game and says he will continue to sit to protest police shootings of black men.
“I am not going to stand up and show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said in a weekend interview. “To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Kaepernick didn’t raise a novel issue — and his nonviolent demonstration didn’t harm anyone or require a law enforcement response. But it produced a swift and largely negative reaction. Some people burned Kaepernick jerseys and posted the video online. Others said his actions insulted veterans, active-duty service members and Americans who died in battle. Still others questioned his patriotism. A White House spokesman described Kaepernick’s actions as “objectionable.”
To be fair, some people agree with Kaepernick.
All of those are examples of free expression, too.
And so are reactions that showed little understanding of, or regard for, the First Amendment protection of free speech. “I think it’s a terrible thing,” Donald Trump told KIRO radio in Seattle, “and you know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him.”
Trump isn’t the only one to make that sort of remark, and he’s as entitled as anyone else to disagree with Kaepernick. But we think presidential candidates — especially those who revel in denouncing political correctness — shouldn’t fall back on tired “love it or leave it” rhetoric.
We’re also unmoved by suggestions that, because of his high-profile job, Kaepernick should keep his opinions to himself. Plenty of prominent Americans — tycoons, celebrities, athletes, on both sides of the aisle — speak out on political and social issues. And, as this summer’s tributes to Muhammad Ali reminded us, some of them take heat for their views. It comes with the territory.
Kaepernick’s next game is tonight. He’s entitled to sit or stand during the national anthem, but he shouldn’t complain if he gets booed.
The remedy for free speech, to paraphrase Justice Louis Brandeis, is more free speech, not enforced silence.
We hope that lesson is instilled in the freshman class at the University of Chicago and at other institutions of higher learning. Let this week’s contretemps be their first lesson.