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Our fights over speech and language

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

In just a few years, the United States will celebrate its 250th birthday. Through ups and downs, our struggle to make a more perfect union has continued.

Each generation has dealt with major threats to the union, but perhaps the biggest threat facing the country today is the attack on speech – not only your freedom of speech, but language itself.

In this upside-down universe, you can be “fact checked” if you don’t use government-approved language. You can be ridiculed if you dare say “pregnant woman” instead of “pregnant person.” And you can lose your job if you say what you really think about any current event.

What has happened to our country?

The editorial board of the New York Times recently ran a headline that read “America has a free speech problem.” The newspaper pointed to a survey that showed only 34 percent of Americans believe that they enjoy freedom of speech completely. And 84 percent say it’s a very serious or somewhat serious problem that Americans don’t or can’t speak freely without fear of retaliation.

The stifling of speech and language eventually means the stifling of ideas. In 2019, when a debate on taxation was held at Gonzaga University, more than 80 percent of students said they had never before heard the free market argument on campus.

Attempts to limit speech and the exchange of ideas are unacceptable and disgraceful.

Elected officials must have the integrity to stand up and defend the freedoms enshrined in our Constitution. Public institutions and private businesses should not be telling workers or users what they can and cannot say, or what they can or shouldn’t think.

The larger problem, however, may be the manipulation of language.

In his dissent in the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Obamacare, the late Justice Antonin Scalia declared that words, it seemed, “no longer had meaning.”

Remember President Bill Clinton’s debate over the “meaning of the word is?”

And consider the latest political dispute over the “Inflation Control Act” passed by the Congress and signed into law by the President. The CBO analysis shows it would actually increase inflation. The bill does not do what the title says it would do. Yet, we are told the “Inflation Control Act” is an answer to rising costs.

Words, speech, ideas – they all matter. And in a free country, they are critical.

Because, as President George Washington once said, “if the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

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