Jonathan Rauch On Why Free Speech Is Even More Important Than You Thought

August 4, 2010

Is it wrong to admit that I love a married man? Well, I do and his name is Jonathan Rauch. You may know him from his work as a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution or his writings in The Atlantic, where he has been a leading voice in the fight for gay marriage, a champion for those dealing with the challenges of caring for an aging or ailing parent, and an idol to introverts everywhere. But for a free speech advocate like me, Jonathan is mostly loved for his brilliant and masterful 1993 book Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought. In Kindly Inquisitors, Rauch offers a powerful defense of freedom of speech as just one part of an intellectual system that has made unparalleled progress possible.

I was thrilled that Jonathan agreed to be the keynote speaker for my organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, at our third annual Campus Freedom Network conference. While I have been friends with Jonathan for years, I did wonder how someone who may be the world’s most famous introvert would fare giving a speech in front of 60 students. Of course, once Jonathan started speaking, I realized there was no need to worry. The students, like me, were blown away, resulting in the only standing ovation I have ever seen at our student conference.

Jonathan anchored his speech around the recent case of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) adjunct professor Kenneth Howell, who landed himself in hot water for sending an e-mail to students in his Introduction to Catholicism class that discussed views of homosexuality in the context of Catholic and utilitarian views on sexual morality. UIUC initially decided not to rehire him after one student alleged his comments constituted "hate speech," but the university recently reversed that decision. While Jonathan makes it clear that he disagrees with Howell and the Catholic Church about their position on homosexuality, he eloquently explains how attempts to punish or silence opinions that we may find offensive are short-sighted, foolish, and ultimately undermine, not help, the rights of minorities.

And, yes, I know, it is 29 minutes long. Quit your grousing, pop some popcorn and watch the whole thing. You’ll be happy you did.

And students, sign up for the Campus Freedom Network! Not only will you help us defend rights of students across the country and be invited to attend next year’s CFN conference, but you will also get a nifty FIRE T-shirt.

Update: I also converted the video into a podcast, which you can download here.