Reflections 06/30/04
Robert Kern Curtis

Curbs Chill Freedom of Expression

This article was first published as a "Letter to the Editor" requested by the editor of The Voice for November, 1985

One universal characteristic of totalitarian states, from ancient Sparta to modern Russia, is contempt for the free expression of thought and opinion. The hallmark of a free society, on the other hand is a deep respect for the need for the unfettered exchange of ideas and values.

We laud Holland for its traditional reverence for the right of each individual person to express himself without fear of reprisal from either society or government, no matter how offensive, irreverent, or unpopular that person's views. This reverence made Holland the sanctuary for many great thinkers and writers of less tolerant European states. We condemn the Athenians who executed Socrates, as well as the Inquisition, the French monarchy, Nazi Germany, communist Russia and all those others who condemn men for their thoughts.

We revere the man whose motto is, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Of this freedom of expression, the superfluous is very necessary! All forms of censorship chill the air and repress the less courageous, making them reluctant to enter into the free exchange of ideas which is vital to the examination of values and beliefs necessary to make one's life worth living.

Today, in our country, there is an erosion of the respect and reverence for free expression--we see a resurgence of book-burnings and even the incineration of phonograph records! We hear of school principals withdrawing controversial books from school libraries, and "forgetting" to return them. We learn of courts having to order school boards to return books to the shelves of their school libraries, and to remind faculty advisors and school principals that just because the school pays for student publications this does not give them the right to censor what the students wish to publish. We witness our society's becoming more and more the suppressor of what is objectionable to an articulate minority, or even to the majority, and we see the loss of that very necessary reverence for others' free expression of their ideas and values--however inconvient, corrupting, and morally offensive those ideas may be--which is absolutely essential to endurance of freedom. We see a free society turning itself into that very despotic totalitarianism the advocates of this censorship say they utterly oppose. It is as if, ignorant of the errors of the past, we are doomed to repeat them!

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