Every year in the third week of October, Free Speech Week is celebrated throughout the country. As a college activist, I frequently helped students promote the importance of freedom of speech with spooky Halloween-themed displays.
One of my favorite activist projects was the “Graveyard of Civil Liberties” in which students and I would dress up in spooky costumes and pass out flyers in front of a graveyard on which every gravestone had a civil liberty listed. This included the First Amendment and the Fourth Amendment, as well as any right the students believed to be under attack.
Since the display is a form of street theater, it is obviously a little exaggerated. The First Amendment – particularly the right to free speech – is still alive. But that doesn’t mean it’s not under attack.
Recently, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern delivered a speech at the United Nations in which she compared freedom of speech with weapons of war. That’s a spooky statement if there ever was one. The only threat freedom of speech poses is to the powerful elite like Prime Minister Ardem. If free speech is questioned and attacked by world leaders, we should all be justifiably concerned.
What’s most troubling is that the statement was not from Russia’s Vladimir Putin or China’s Xi Jinping. We already know what to expect from authoritarian regimes. This came from the supposedly democratic nation of New Zealand. This could signal a trend among democratic nations to begin chipping at free speech rights throughout the Western world.
Fortunately, American democracy is the strongest in the world. This is why a few months ago, when the Biden administration introduced the Disinformation Governance Board, it was immediately compared with the Ministry of Truth from George Orwell’s classic novel “1984.” Less than a month later, the new board was terminated.
Americans understand the importance of freedom of speech. In fact, a recent general survey conducted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education showed that freedom of speech is the thing that mattered most to Americans. Among the respondents, 83% of them agreed with the idea that democracy can only thrive if speech is free.
The battle for free speech is one we are winning, but free speech should never be taken for granted. It is an important right that every American has and it should be celebrated in the face of those who would silence us. Freedom of speech is not just to talk about the weather – it is about speaking truth to power.
So happy Free Speech Week! Remember: We are winning, and we are going to keep winning as long as we keep fighting for the right to speak.