Restoring the First Amendment

Balint Vazsonyi

Widespread concerns about impending restrictions of our civil liberties include those guaranteed under the First Amendment. But freedom of speech and of the press have already lost considerable ground during recent decades. The awakening of America is an opportunity to restore those crown jewels to their rightful place.

The national conversation we have begun about the need to defend America will require expression of the broadest possible scope of views. Nothing must stand in the way of the free, open, unobstructed exchange necessary for us to be the one nation affirmed in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The following is a public appeal to the Academy and the Press - two constituents of our society that depend on these rights even more than the rest of us - to consider profound changes in their political creed in order to serve the nation in these critical moments.

Exceptions to the rule notwithstanding, colleges and universities have prescribed what words may and may not be used, imposed a single political perspective from which to regard highly complex issues of society, and eliminated dissent. Speakers who represent different views are rarely invited during the academic year and their message is routinely drowned out by mob action. They are practically never selected for commencement exercises. Administrative pressures and consignment to "sensitivity training" persuade students of the wisdom to keep silent.

We need not assign a label to this political creed. Suffice it to say that it cannot and will not coexist with any other. Among its many distinguishing marks is the (entirely proper) outrage and condemnation should a faculty member display a portrait of Adolf Hitler in his office, yet finding nothing wrong with a likeness of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (to whom we owe the term "political correctness") attesting to a professor's admiration.

The appeal to trustees, presidents, provosts, deans, and department chairs is not only to permit but to organize active participation in campus debates by those who derive their political philosophy from Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Adams. Those anchored in America's founding principles tend to see Marx, Engels, Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Goebbels as branches of the same tree.

As we contemplate the means by which to reestablish not only our tangible defenses, but our once-abundant capacity for self-defense, we will have to reopen many questions the Academy had considered closed some time ago. Among these are immigration policy, energy policy, appropriate roles for women in the military, and a return to efficient use of our resources. The last of these would require appointment of the most suitable person for every job, regardless of socio-political considerations.

The walls of Fortress Academy are impenetrable, hence the appeal for lowering the drawbridges. Americans on the outside are powerless, as are the few dissenters who had been allowed inside. Even the Nazis used to keep a few token Jews around in case they needed an alibi down the line.

The newsrooms and editorial offices of most so-called major media are committed to the identical political creed. Naturally: they are staffed by graduates from our schools of journalism. A handful of token columnists notwithstanding, the reporting of news from a singular political perspective has become as predictable as have editorial opinions. Institutions of immense power such as The New York Times or The Washington Post see nothing wrong in preconditioning their readers, any more than network anchors and nationally prominent commentators. They do so, among other things, by describing persons of their own political creed by name and profession, while those of a different view are introduced as "conservative,""right-wing," or "millionaire."

Of course, anyone who continues to disagree is a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, a bigot - words of reprobation without content.

And so, the second appeal goes to owners, editors and publishers of our newspapers and television networks. The rights we possess do little good if reality prevents their practice.

As a small child, years before encountering the U.S. Constitution, I often heard my parents speak of "a place in London called Hyde Park, where anyone can get up on a bench and say ANYTHING he wants." Growing up in Nazi- and Soviet-occupied Hungary, it was hard to believe such a place existed.

America's Founders created a Hyde Park that stretches from Canada to Mexico and from sea to shining sea, where not only Englishmen but all the people of the world can get up on a bench, a barrel, a soap box.

We appeal to the Academy and the Press to relocate to our Hyde Park.

Balint Vazsonyi, concert pianist and director of the Center for the American Founding, writes every Wednesday. His e-mail is bv@founding.org