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OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: Protect liberties

by Mike Masterson | November 2, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.

It's difficult to believe our nation, conceived in freedom of speech, expression and association, today finds itself shrouded in a cloud that tolerates none of those liberties.

I'm talking about the so-called "cancel culture."

The website Speech First puts the cancel-culture assault this way: "Even [George] Orwell didn't predict this. In the past year, 'cancel culture' has made its way from college campuses to Americans' daily lives ... with significant damage to free speech, free thinking, and our free society along the way.

"Cancel culture is, unfortunately, the natural outcome of the anti-free-speech and anti-free-thought environments that too many of our colleges and universities create.

"In recent years, colleges have adopted various policies--including speech codes, "safe spaces," and "free speech zones"--with the goal of shutting down unwanted speech. Their message is clear: Students with unconventional ideas should shut up and keep their opinions to themselves."

I say the scourge extends beyond that. There are those who fancy themselves as "thought police" who believe their opinions and cultural preferences are the only ones that matter and all others should be shamed and demonized.

Most shocking in this distinctly un-American attack on long-held freedoms is that even some corporations and government organizations condone ruining careers and lives.

I suspect I'm a lot like the majority reading today in that I will never support another human being trying to cause me harm because of my thoughts or to control them in any way. The opinions I embrace after living almost 75 years are the inherent result of who I am and all I believe. No other person has the right to cancel me or my thoughts.

If I enjoy the fruits of free enterprise and the ability to rise to my highest potential in this society, no one else has the right to try to damage me for such thoughts any more than I do to them if they prefer communism, dictatorships and total government control over them.

I'm certainly not going to try and get anyone with differing views fired, disgraced or shunned for exercising their supposedly protected freedom of thought. That's a sick and twisted form of reasoning.

The philosophy of freedom should seem beyond obvious to thinking people. Yet clearly, in light of those being "canceled" by the self-appointed judges of American speech, it is not. It feels to me as if a certain group of academics and those around them believe only their thoughts and words matter. How arrogant and pathetic.

Speech First lists several examples where Americans today "cancel" their brethren for daring to hold thoughts different than their own.

They include: "Conservative college students silencing their own speech out of fear of being 'reported' by their fellow students and disciplined for their beliefs. One poll, conducted by College Pulse on behalf of the College Fix, found that nearly 75 percent of 1,000 Republican and Republican-leaning college students surveyed have withheld their political views in class for fear their grades would suffer."

How sad and twisted is that untenable situation in institutions of higher "education"?

Some schools, Speech First reports, have added "weasel words" to their speech codes "to give administrators broad discretion to determine which speech--and whose speech--violates their policies. These legally ambiguous words like 'uncivil,' 'rude,' 'offensive,' and 'biased' put faculty and bureaucrats in charge ... and too often they use their broad powers to enforce far-left progressive ideology."

Schools are conducting ideological purity tests for prospective students, even revoking admission offers for incoming freshmen because of old social media posts. The purity tests evaluate students using a progressive ideology.

"If you want to know why college students are so uniformly liberal ... or why 'cancel culture' has become a treacherous fight in the past year," Speech First writes, "you have your answer! Free speech policy issues on college campuses don't stay on campus. The anti-free-speech environment that misguided policies create and enforce shapes entire generations and, today, is overwhelmingly focused on forcing compliance with far-left, radically progressive ideology. ...

"Speech First put colleges and universities on notice that shutting down 'unwanted' speech will no longer be tolerated ... and we ensure that First Amendment protections are upheld in higher education as we support students on campus, in the media and in court," say its administrators.

Meanwhile, in the time I have remaining in this nation that has given me and so many others the freedom and fulfillment necessary to a purposeful life free from tyranny and oppression, I will resist this twisted philosophy with every ounce of strength and ability within me.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at

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