Greenwald to Central Washington Students: No Idea Beyond Challenge

May 10, 2013

Attorney and columnist Glenn Greenwald spoke earlier this week to students at Central Washington University (CWU), delivering a vital message about the importance of freedom of expression. The Daily Record reports that in a talk presented as part of CWU’s weeklong First Amendment Festival, Greenwald discussed messages and symbols students had added to a "free speech wall" throughout the day:  

George Carlin’s seven dirty words. Multiple references to metal band Slayer. A swastika.

Passers-by put all of those things and more up on large paper sheets hung at the two entrances to the Student Union and Recreation Center at Central Washington University on Monday.  


Find all those nasty words on the free speech wall offensive? Don’t like Slayer? Tough luck, Greenwald said. 

"Constitutional rights by their design are anti-democratic," he said. "These rights are anti-democratic because what they’re designed to do is to tell not just the government, but the majority of citizens, that no matter how many of you favor a certain act, the Constitution says that you cannot do it."

Noting that much of the speech centered on "how much effort and complexity goes into maintaining a free society," the Daily Record quotes Greenwald as explaining that social advances rely on free speech, which isn’t always easy to protect:

It’s hard to convince people there’s any kind of debate over free expression – people never stand up and announce they’re against it, he said. People who attack free speech might not even know they’re doing it.

They might say they support free speech, except in what to them seems like a very specific circumstance, he said. 

"What free speech actually means and what it’s designed to protect does not permit people to embrace those kinds of exceptions," he said.

Nobody has the right to shield any idea as so sacred it can’t be challenged, he said. When reviewing the most significant ideas in human history, he said, almost all of them were challenges to some reigning orthodoxy, like Copernicus’ heliocentric model of the solar system or the Protestant Reformation. 

"Almost all human progress is driven by people who stood up and said ‘I disagree’ with this idea that society at the time considered to be the most precious," he said.

Of course, we here at FIRE strongly agree with Greenwald’s excellent points. We congratulate CWU on what sounds like a very successful celebration of the First Amendment. 

Schools:  Central Washington University