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Free speech manifestos surface on James Madison’s birthday

Harvard’s Cornel West and Princeton’s Robert P. George are asking people of all walks to sign a statement affirming free speech and openness, to listen to those who “challenge our views.” “All of us should be willing—even eager—to engage with anyone who is prepared to do business in the currency of truth-seeking discourse by offering reasons, marshaling evidence, and making arguments,” write West and George,  “The more important the subject under discussion, the more willing we should be to listen and engage—especially if the person with whom we are in conversation will challenge our deeply held—even our most cherished and identity-forming—beliefs.” (Princeton University, March 14, 2017)

First Amendment Center’s Lata Nott writes that there will always be speech that challenges our commitment to free speech whether it be arguments for Hitler, flag burning or a someone using a drone to take photos of your front yard. Few enjoy hearing opinions that don’t support our values and world view. Faced with such challenges it is important to keep in mind that we share with our adversaries an interest in keeping the government from censoring our speech. “You may advocate for hate speech policies that will silence bigots, but once they’re passed, these same laws can be used to silence you. You may support laws that are intended to restrict and neuter public protests, but you will find yourself without many options when it comes time to stand up for a cause that you believe in,” writes Nott. Newseum Institute, March 16, 2017)

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