By Sarah Ruger
Each year, Americans recognize the importance of free speech during the third full week in October. There is no shortage of holidays that celebrate our freedoms (Independence Day, Constitution Day, First Amendment Day, etc.), so why does free speech merit a whole week of attention?
Because free expression is essential to all we hold dear. Free speech and toleration are necessary for societies to flourish. It not only allows us to engage with people with whom we disagree through civil debate, it is necessary for a free flow of ideas, which leads to discovery, innovation, and growth.
“Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such thing as Wisdom; and no such thing as public Liberty, without Freedom of Speech.”
— Benjamin Franklin
Free speech and the ability to challenge authority are what separate us from the horrors of rights-violations seen in authoritarian regimes abroad. The atrocities seen in Iraq, North Korea, China, and other unfree states seem distant from America, but we are sowing the seeds of such oppression at home as we devolve into a world where respectful discourse is abandoned in favor of the dogmatic advancement of one’s own tribe.
We’re not yet North Korea, but America is now a country in which institutions of higher learning are discouraging dissenting ideas and science is politicized and subjected to innovation-stifling attack.
“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.”
— Benjamin Franklin
If we do not vigilantly and vigorously fight this trend towards censorship and begin appreciating and promoting the pluralism upon which this country was founded, we can expect to see the benefits we enjoy give way to tyranny.
As Free Speech Week comes to a close, you can exercise your right to free speech by both voicing your own ideas and tolerating those of others. By simply practicing respect and civility in the face of challenging speech, you can turn the tide towards peace and progress.
We at the Charles Koch Institute are dedicated to promoting free speech and a culture of toleration. With this in mind, we are proud to announce our First-Annual Prize for American Free Speech.
Students are on the front lines of the fight for free expression, so we’re asking them to answer a simple question: “What is the importance of free speech to a flourishing society?” We hope that students around the country will take the opportunity to make their voices heard. Prizes will be awarded to first-, second-, and third-place winners, with a top prize of $2,500 and possible assistance with publication.