May 26, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Ohio bill protects ‘conservatives’ from the pressures of democracy
When it comes to free speech, the point is not liberty for all.
We should thank Jerry Cirino.
It’s not every day that a Republican lawmaker says the quiet part out loud – that when it comes to free speech, the point is not liberty for all, but liberty for some Republicans to say what they want, to force the rest of us to listen and, critically, to prevent the rest of us from talking back.
The Ohio state senator spoke after the Ohio Senate passed a bill last week that, according to the Ohio Capital Journal, “focuses on what Republicans call ‘free speech,’ banning public universities in Ohio from having ‘bias’ in the classroom and limiting what ‘controversial topics’ can and can’t be taught.” It reportedly creates “safe spaces” on campus.
Cirino said it frees people “from the pressure to agree with a single ideological perspective, which dominates our campuses today.”
What matters is that conservatives feel pressured. What matters is that this feeling, to these conservatives, constitutes an infringement on their rights and liberties. What matters is that these infringements demand action, even though such action will infringe someone’s rights and liberties. Free speech for everyone isn’t the point. The point is ensuring that conservatives feel free.
Cirino should have said what a fellow Republican said.
State Representative Josh Williams told local TV reporters that he believes that “conservatives feel discriminated against on campus.” He cited his experience in law school. “If you had an opposing view, you would just call that individual a fascist, a Nazi, as a way of quashing their speech and making their comments and their positions irrelevant.”
We’re used to hearing about discrimination, but Cirino didn’t do that.
Instead, Cirino said that Senate Bill 83 would liberate “conservatives” from “the pressure to agree” with – well, it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that conservatives feel pressured. What matters is that this feeling constitutes an infringement. What matters is that this infringement demands government action, even though such government action might infringe others. Free speech for everyone isn’t the point. The point is ensuring that conservatives feel free.
Let’s step back for a minute to say that in every context in which human beings agree to organize themselves, there’s a prevailing way of thinking about the world that influences how those involved operate.
This is true in public and private settings. This is true in families. This is true in businesses. This is true in universities. This is true in governments. Every context has a “single ideological perspective.”
We usually don’t call it that. We don’t call it anything. The status quo (or consensus), while influencing our choices, is invisible. It’s invisible, because most people most of the time, in a context in which human beings agree to organize themselves, generally accept it for what it is.
Until they don’t.
Every context has a “single ideological perspective.” But rarely, if ever, is the status quo (or consensus) so dominant that it silences the views of individuals who generally accept it for what it is. Everyone’s got an opinion. They are not policed, with rare exception. Does that mean we’re free to say what we want when we want free of consequences?
Contrary to what Republicans tell us, conservative thinking is very much present on university campuses. Conservative thinking (however it’s defined) is among a host of ways of thinking about the world.
Contrary to what Republicans tell us, colleges are marketplaces where “merchants” persuade each other that a way of thinking about the world is right (even if that way of thinking about the world concedes that all, or most, ways of thinking about the world are meritorious).
On campus, persuasion is the status quo (or consensus). It is the “single ideological perspective.” And it makes conservatives uncomfortable.
It makes them uncomfortable, because persuasion is pressure – a democratic pressure. It demands open minds. They don’t want that. They want to be told they’re right. If they aren’t, they can’t feel free.
Ohio Senate Bill 83 doesn’t create spaces in which conservatives can feel safe from discrimination, though they want us to believe that.
It creates spaces in which conservatives can feel safe from the pressure of being persuaded to open their minds – where they can feel safe from doubts about what they already believe to be true. As persuasion is democratic, the legislation does something else. It protects them from the pressures of democracy. Democracy, for conservatives, isn’t safe.
That might not have been clear before Jerry Cirino said as much.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.