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The Curious Case of Free Speech in Education

In what can only be seen as a very strange case in Cody, WY, a small group of parents and public school teachers have sent out a letter to the local elected school board demanding their fellow citizens be denied the right to participate in a proposed public hearing.

The entire episode centers on a decision soon to be made by the school board to purchase a number of reading curriculums for grades K-7 at a cost of around $200,000 to the district taxpayers.

The letter states, “We believe that it was inappropriate to have that public comment session included in the process.” And it doesn’t stop there. Instead the signers of the letter go even further by describing what they believe are the behaviors of those in their community who are opposed to the proposed curriculum.

“Many of those in opposition to the recommended resource are using the discussion as a forum to promulgate their extreme, racist agenda. These comments are not legitimate objections to bias. Please see these comments for what they are: bigoted, straw man rhetoric, set up to distract the board from the actual decision at hand.”

Now many of you are probably amazed that this is happening in Cody, WY. But we shouldn’t be. This kind of targeted free speech suppression is happening all over our country.

The problem is this kind of anti free speech bullying is a very slippery slope leading eventually to a dark cavern of true oppression. It’s one of the reasons we at the Wyoming Liberty Group spend so much time defending free speech and fighting against those who would deny fellow citizens the right to speak using tactics similar to what those used in Cody.

Take for instance a recent article by Australian human rights advocate Tanya Cohen who has moved to America to further her work; “I’ve dedicated my life to protecting and promoting human rights and civil liberties, not only in Australia, but around the world.”

In the article, Ms. Cohen writes that laws exist, “to enforce acceptable behavior.” Which begs the question, what is unacceptable behavior, or in more clear terms, what is unacceptable speech? Well for Ms. Cohen and her lot, they have made it abundantly clear.

“Arguing against a woman’s right to choose is not acceptable behaviour. Ergo, there is absolutely no reason that it should be legal either. We would never allow anyone to question racial equality, diversity, or multiculturalism, so why should we allow anyone to question a woman’s right to have an abortion?

Australia needs to protect the right to hold anti-business protests, pro-refugee protests, gay rights protests, Indigenous rights protests, pro-Palestinian protests, anti-hate protests, and other legitimate exercises of freedom of expression. At the same time, Australia needs to ban Islamophobic protests, anti-choice protests, anti-Palestinian protests, anti-marriage equality protests, and other forms of hate speech which abuse the right to freedom of expression and thus should not be protected by freedom of speech. Likewise, Australia needs to protect real journalists while shutting down all right-wing “journalism” outlets that peddle lies and hatred, manipulating public opinion against the common good. Freedom of speech does not give anyone the right to spread lies, hatred, or misinformation.

Not only should anti-choice speech be banned, but so should all speech that voices approval of reactionary, hateful, bigoted, or anti-human rights ideologies. This includes pro-gun speech, speech that voices approval of Israeli apartheid in Palestine, speech that voices approval of the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers, speech advocating oppressive economic systems, anti-feminist speech, anti-environmental speech, anti-healthcare speech, anti-immigration speech, climate change denial, and any other ideologies which are harmful, hateful, and/or dangerous.”

It would seem the parents and teachers that signed the letter calling their fellow parents racists and bigots and demanding the board deny a public comment meeting in order to enforce what they see as acceptable behavior in their community have taken a lesson from Ms. Cohen’s playbook.

Let’s hope the school board in Cody sees through this tactic and allows everyone in the community to have their say. The curriculum (and I will write more about that later) about to be purchased will be used to teach every public school child from Kindergarten to 7th grade and parents should be allowed to voice their support or concerns in an open meeting. To do anything else would allow those that wish to suppress speech a terrible victory with long reaching consequences for the entire community of Cody.

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Sunday, 20 August 2017
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