McConnell Defends Free Expression and Civil Discourse in America

‘America has always prized the spirit of the First Amendment. We citizens must want to protect an open, civil discourse; a true marketplace of ideas.’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks today on the Senate floor regarding freedom of expression:

“Since the spring, our nation has engaged in important conversations about racial justice in policing.

“Most people understand that continuing our nation’s tremendous progress toward justice does not mean battling against American principles or American history. Progress means fulfilling our values, not attacking them.

“And yet, a group of radicals have latched onto this moment to say we should repudiate our country itself.

“Mobs have dragged statues of Washington, Jefferson, and Grant through the dirt. And in parallel, inside many elite institutions, self-styled intellectuals say we should similarly discard the basic principles they fought for.

“One of the key pillars of our nation is the rule of law. In a civilized society, the same laws need to apply to everyone.

“The times our nation has fallen short on this score, particularly for all the years when Black Americans were completely denied the equal protections of law, it has been to our great shame.

“This has been central to the cause of civil rights. There’s a reason the Fourteenth Amendment insists on “the equal protection of the laws.”

“And yet, in recent months, local leaders have violated this basic tenet. As riots rocked major cities, we saw politicians decline to act. They seemed to fear far-left critique more than looting and chaos. And we saw the uneven application of other rules, like when mayors cheered on mass demonstrations but continued to prohibit religious gatherings.

“That is the rule of law in jeopardy.

“Of course, that last example is also a First Amendment issue. And the freedom of expression itself is another principle that’s come under threat.

“As I said a few weeks back, this goes deeper than just constitutional law. America has always prized the spirit of the First Amendment. We citizens must want to protect an open, civil discourse; a true marketplace of ideas.

“But lately, the political left has embraced something totally different.

“Today’s far left is not interested in winning debates with better arguments. They prefer to shut down debate altogether. They don’t try to win the contest, they just harangue the referees to stop the game.

“If they don’t like an op-ed, they want it unpublished. If they don’t like a tweet, they want to track down the author and get them fired. If they don’t like a tenured professor, they throw around Orwellian accusations that his or her ideas make them feel unsafe.

“This hostile culture is getting results. According to one brand-new survey, it is only far-left Americans who do not feel compelled to self-censor their views because of a hostile climate. Everyone but the far left feels the threat.

“And 50 percent of self-identified strong liberals say that simply contributing to the Republican presidential candidate ought to be a fireable offense for a business leader.

“In this country?

“We recently saw the New York Times apologized for publishing a straightforward policy argument from a U.S. Senator. Since, an editorial staffer resigned from the paper because even center-left opinions were not liberal enough and led to her constant harassment.

“You see, the safe spaces only ever go in one direction.

“On elite campuses, such as Princeton, we see faculty turning on their tenured colleagues, and even administrators weighing in, to chastise people with unpopular views.

“We see online platforms such as Facebook threatening to ban political advertising altogether, chilling our democracy, because far-left employees and outside pressure groups berate them for letting diverse speakers use their platform.

“Even at a time when there is significant appetite in Congress to take a second look at the legal protections afforded to these supposedly neutral platforms, they still contemplate giving an angry minority of agitators a veto over Americans’ political speech.

“The author Salman Rushdie, who was himself threatened with death for controversial speech, once said this: “Two things form the bedrock of any open society: freedom of expression and the rule of law. If you don’t have those things, you don’t have a free country.”

“Free expression and the rule of law. Exactly the two things we’ve seen eroded in recent months.

“Rushdie recently signed an open letter with other intellectuals, many liberals, sounding the alarm on this cultural poison.

“Editors are fired,” they wrote, “books are withdrawn… journalists are barred from writing on certain topics… professors are investigated… steadily narrow[ing] the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal.”

“You can guess what happened next. The grievance-industrial complex came after the letter itself. The authors were accused of advancing bigotry. And the cycle of nonsense started all over again.

“The United States of America needs free speech. We need free expression. And all of us, from all perspectives, need the courage to speak up and defend it.”

Related Issues: First Amendment