Wednesday, September 16, 2015

For Our Free Speech, We Have Censors to Thank

The Chronicle of Higher Education
September 14th, 2015

Americans have been reading a lot lately about the state of speech on college campuses. Stories about canceled contracts, resignations, disinvited speakers, racist songs, sexist banners, and trigger warnings have spilled into mainstream news outlets and the blogosphere. This year, September 21 is a fine day to reflect on the lessons of history as we consider the future of speech in higher education: It’s the 100th anniversary of the death of Anthony Comstock.
His is no longer a household name, but Comstock was an important national figure, because he held immense and unique prosecutorial authority to control and suppress speech. He was a U.S. postal inspector and secretary and a special agent of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, an organization empowered by state statute to supervise the morality of the public. Comstock was a Christian evangelical convinced that if provocative texts, images, and objects were eliminated, souls would be saved and a better and more civil society would result. As our contemporary culture demonstrates, his efforts resulted in epic failure.

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