Free to Disagree

Brad Weber – Staff Writer

On Thursday, October 26th, the Sioux County Conservatives group held an event featuring Dr. Steve Kirby, in which he shared his views on Islam. This meeting was originally going to be held at the Sioux Center Pizza Ranch, but, because of potential protests, was moved to the Sioux Center Library. For some of the liberals protesting the event, this relocation was not enough; a campaign was started on Facebook to get the event canceled outright, with one of the initiators of the protest saying, “LET’S SHUT IT DOWN” and “FERMENTING HATE IN IOWA IS NOT ACCEPTABLE!!!”

In the face of this event and the protest, one concept I believe should be more widely taught is the Overton window. The Overton window, briefly, is the range of socially acceptable positions people may hold. In the 1850s it was socially acceptable for Abraham Lincoln to say, “there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality”; needless to say, this is no longer a socially accepted view. In the 1950s it would have been socially unacceptable to condone homosexuality, but nowadays many people do. The Overton window has shifted to include some new views (homosexuality), and to exclude some old views (white supremacy).

The First Amendment was not put in place to protect views within the Overton window because, by nature of being within the Overton window, these views are generally not under threat. The First Amendment was put in place specifically to protect ideas outside of the Overton window so that, if these ideas were good, they could be spread. This freedom of speech has generally benefited those who hold minority opinions the most. Many landmark First Amendment cases ruled in favor of civil rights activists, others in favor of communists, and even more in favor of those protesting American involvement in foreign wars.

So, when someone calls for shutting down an event because the views that will be shared are “NOT ACCEPTABLE”, I can’t help but wonder what views they believe should be protected by free speech. Should we protect ideas that are socially acceptable? That seems a bit unnecessary to me. Maybe we should only protect ideas that no one finds offensive; unfortunately, I find that idea itself offensive, so it’s a bit of a catch 22 there. Maybe, these people think that only ideas they agree with should be spread, and all other voices should be silenced; if that is the case I will kindly tell them that North Korea might be the perfect place for them.

Attempting to prevent a person from speaking to an audience that wants to listen is attempting to violate their right to free speech. We need free speech so that ideas may be spread, debated, critiqued, criticized, and, ultimately, accepted or rejected. So, if you disagree with a speaker, organize a counter event, protest, engage them with rigorous debate, but please do not attempt to undermine the bedrock of free society.





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