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Keep free speech flowing

Keep free speech flowing

Government, college campuses getting in the act of shutting down opposing voices

Americans have always been an obnoxious lot, always picketing or protesting or marching for some cause or another.

Once, we even threw boxes of tea into a harbor to protest a tax.

Speaking out is an American tradition, and being tolerant of the right of other people to express their opinions — no matter how mean-spirited, racist, inaccurate or stupid — is one of the foundations of our free society.

Yet that freedom of expression seems to be rapidly eroding away. We as a society are growing increasingly intolerant of other people's views.

Here in New York, the crackdown on free speech has spread to the Legislature and the governor's office.

One state senator has introduced legislation that would withhold funding from student groups or student organizations on New York public campuses that "promote, encourage or permit intolerance" or boycott against specific groups and countries, including NATO, Israel and Japan.

And earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo took it upon himself to create a blacklist of companies and institutions that in any way support boycotts, divestment or sanctions against Israel. State agencies and authorities under the governor's control would be prohibited from investing in those organizations.

College campuses in particular have always been the place in the United States where free speech has not only been tolerated but encouraged.

Now, if someone on a college campus doesn't agree with the political leanings of another student, they force them off campus. If someone comes to speak to some club or at graduation and they're not politically correct, the response of colleges now seems to be to ban them instead of picket them.

Colleges should be inviting the most controversial people to their campuses, not the least.

Would the late, great Muhammad Ali, who fought for his right to abstain from military service based on his religious principles, have been afforded a forum on a college campus today to share his views? Or would he have been denied the opportunity to speak?

In recent years, such luminaries as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali have either been disinvited from speaking on college campuses or withdrawn their acceptance to speak because they were told their opinions weren't welcome.

Earlier this year at California State University-Los Angeles, students demanded the resignation of the college's president for inviting conservative commentator Ben Shapiro to come to the campus to talk, of all things, about diversity and intolerance.

What are we saying to our children and to others who look to our nation for guidance on issues of freedom when government sanctions legal action against people expressing a point of view contrary to the state's?

What are we saying when our own college campuses become harbors of intolerance and hate rather than islands of free expression?

Before this movement goes too far, we need to think about the consequences of destroying one of the basic freedoms that makes us who we are.

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