Archived Story

Do we encourage free speech?

Published 10:04am Friday, May 3, 2013

In the news this week was the first ever announcement by a professional male athlete that he is homosexual. His name is Jason Collins, and he is an NBA center with 13 years of professional experience.

For the most part he was congratulated for his courage in coming forth and revealing that even in macho sports there are natural differences in sexuality and expressions of love.

One supportive Tweet went to Collins from retired Packer LeRoy Butler who simply wrote “Congrats to Jason Collins.”

That tweet cost Butler $8,500 when a speaking engagement he had contracted to do for a Wisconsin church was cancelled. The church cited a “morals clause” in justifying the cancellation of his contract.

Butler was given the opportunity to win back the speaking opportunity and income were he only to take down the Tweet, apologize to the church, and ask God for forgiveness.

He declined.

By disinviting Butler the church will miss a speaker who is an active church member, who is known for his work with churches in Wisconsin, and who has done a good deal of philanthropic work since his retirement.

The greater loss though is part of a broader trend in America, the construction of domes of views, where others are simply not welcome.

The trend is easily seen as well in many of our universities, locations historically known for their willingness to exchange ideas from all perspectives that have, in recent decades, turned their speaking opportunities more and more to liberal ideas only.

Ben Carson is a surgeon who has recently been popular in conservative circles by his clear and candid views on traditional marriage. He was asked to deliver the commencement address at Johns Hopkins University, but withdrew when a group of students objected to his views before hearing from him directly.

His is not the only conservative perspective to be shouted down from those with differing views on college campuses. But colleges should not be shaped in their choices of exposures to ideas by minorities or majorities when ideas are at stake.

Our highest educational opportunities should, and must, expose students to the broad range of ideas across the full spectrum of thinking; ideas that do not demand allegiance, only tolerance and consideration of their underlying merit.

Increasingly we are a nation that too often talks at each other instead of to each other, a nation polarized by a binary that pretends every problem poses an “either-or” solution instead of a “both-and” possibility.

When Republicans champion border security they deserve to be listened to and Democrats need not reject rational arguments for border control out of hand.

Likewise, when Democrats reject sending 11 million illegal immigrants “home” Republicans ought to recognize that solution simply will never work and the discussion merits more thoughtful solutions.

But all too often instead both sides lock in on “talking points” and fail to grant creditability to the arguments of the opposition. We can do better in constructing a national dialogue, and we should do better.

Still, improving our national conversation requires everyone to first genuinely listen to the voices of others, find the logic of their argument, seek out some common understanding and, most of all, tolerate a difference of opinion.

Whether the issue is free speech, voting rights, abortion, or the social safety net, we are better citizens and better elected officials when we listen and practice civility.

You may agree or disagree with LeRoy Butler’s Tweet to Jason Collins, but we are all better to respect Butler’s views than to deem them unacceptable.


Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.


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