If one were to hold a controversial idea, or even a divisive belief, the last place they should ever worry about being forbidden to share that opinion, or give a voice to that belief, is at a University. Yet, it is within these very institutions that many ideas and beliefs have been silenced, either by means of being declared they are not welcomed, or in more extreme cases, violently opposed. UC Berkley is a recent example, with riotous students burning their own communities, all because a man sought to share a view that they deemed to be hateful. Now whether or not those views are worthy of such a label is another discussion, but for the sake of argument let us operate under the agreement that the views are in fact, hateful.
The question now becomes, who is truly in the wrong; the man who sought to share hateful ideas and beliefs, or the students who sought to deny him? A university is a place of higher education, and education is the act of critically examining ideas and beliefs, the moral implications of those ideas and beliefs are meaningless if obtaining a higher education is ones goal. Free inquiry is central to education, if one cannot question what they are being told, or are restricted from questioning the consensus of the majority then there can be no education, only revelation.
Revelation is truth from authority. This truth cannot be questioned, because to do so is to question the authority that this truth derives from. We are fortunate to have examples of this within the annals of history. When Galileo challenged the consensus of a geocentric universe, charges of blasphemy were laid against him, because he was challenging, and thereby questioning, the authority of the Bible itself. Whether or not Galileo was correct was not worthy of consideration. In an environment such as this, where free inquiry is labeled as blasphemy, it is not surprising that when religion ruled the world, we refer to that era as the Dark Ages.
Going back to the previous question of who is in the wrong, the man who sought to share a hateful idea or belief, or the students who sought to deny him. The only answer an honest person can give would be to look to the students, because that is where the fault lies. The students have betrayed the very principle of free inquiry, and by doing so, betrayed the very thing central to a higher education. By denying the expression of a hateful idea or belief, they have denied themselves the pursuit of free inquiry, and by doing so, denied themselves education.
Let me raise the stakes even higher. Should we as a society, allow a member of Al-Qaeda the freedom to share his beliefs and ideas at a university? The answer is and must be...Yes. If education is the act of critically examining those ideas and beliefs that we are told to be true. Then let any who claim to hold the truth share it openly and without restriction, we have nothing to lose because only the truth can survive the gauntlet of critical examination, and if it does survive, then we are better off for the knowledge gained.
If one idea can be silenced, one belief robbed of a voice to share it, at the very institution that embodies higher education; we have already lost. Not to a tyrannical government, not to an overbearing religious authority. We have lost to those who claim that for the sake of restricting the spread of hateful ideas and beliefs, free inquiry must be sacrificed, education must be sacrificed. That is not a sacrifice we should be willing to make, we have to accept that the truth is not a moral position, that one does not need to have the moral high ground to grasp it, and that even those of unquestionable moral character can see the truth where there is only a lie. A hateful idea is still an idea, and a university is a place where ideas are freely exchanged, where students are taught how to think, not what to think.
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