DumbAndSilentAs an author/journalist, I often speak on freedom of speech, a topic considered “controversial” in today’s toxic climate. Virtually every hand in my audience shoots up when I ask, “Who believes we are the freest people on the globe when it comes to speech?”

Hands slowly descend when I add that, according to the World Press Freedom Index, the U.S. now ranks 46th in the world when it comes to freedom of speech. How can that be?

Ignorance: Surveys show that younger people are less likely than older generations to support free speech. Nearly 40 percent of those 18 to 34 believe that “offensive” speech should be banned and that the First Amendment does not apply to “hate speech.” Nineteen percent agree it is “acceptable to use violence to prevent speakers from speaking if you’re opposed to them.” Over half are completely ignorant of the fact that communist governments in the 20th Century murdered more than 120 million of their own people; about the same number say they had rather live under a socialist government than under capitalism.

In the aftermath of high tech and its massive influence, reading has declined precipitously. Less than half of all Americans have read a single book during the past year. This decline of human respect for the function of words is increasing evidence of a corresponding decline and weakening of human attention spans. Predictably, citizenship and freedom of thought are casualties of a population that does not read.

“What ails American democracy?” asked Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan. “Too much information and too little thought.”

Political Correctness: “Don’t you see,” George Orwell wrote, “that the whole aim of Newspeak (politically correct speech) is too narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought crime literally impossible because there will be no words in which to express it.”

Ironically, Americans are as apt to voluntarily relinquish their freedom of speech as to have it wrested from them. Cato’s 2017 National Free Speech Survey found that 53 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of Republicans hide their political beliefs on such controversial topics as gay and lesbian issues, race relations, women’s issues, abortion, poverty, the police, and foreign policy. Take a principled stand and you are promptly branded a hate-monger, bigot, homophobic, racist, sexist. . . With repercussions.

Christian student groups have been tossed off-campus because they refuse to support same-sex marriage. The President of Harvard University made a PC-incorrect observation that men and women are different with different aptitudes. Offended ladies on broomsticks forced him to resign.

“PC is dangerous,” Dr. Ben Carson noted. “It muffles people while the fabric of this society is being changed.”

Most of us find it easier to self-censorship, keep our mouths shut, and go along with the “woke” lunacy of 114 different genders, women marrying their German shepherds, “safe spaces,” and so forth.

The beat goes on and on….

Censorship: “This,” observed Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center, “is the emerging of the greatest censorship of free speech worldwide in the history of man…”

And it’s happening throughout the culture—academia, entertainment, business, religion… and, most dangerously, within government itself.

Why depend on the First Amendment anyhow when so many alternatives present themselves? As Mayor Jesse Arreguin of Berkeley, California, put it, “I obviously believe in freedom of speech, but there is a line between freedom of speech and its posing a risk to public safety.”

In other words, you can be free or you can be safe—but not both.

Whereupon the Mayor canceled all conservative speakers scheduled to appear for the University of California’s Free Speech Week because their mere presence might inflame opponents like Antifa or Blacks Lives Matter and cause them to “come out and commit mayhem.”

California proposed a measure that, had it passed, would have allowed the state to control and censor “the spread of false information on social media.”

“Is it hard not to imagine the results of the law will be censorship of views that politicians disagree with or views critical of politicians?” pondered Barry Brownstein, Foundation for Economic Education. “’Fact checking’ will be deployed against those who express doubt, for example, against climate change… or ‘educating’ children about gender dysphoria.”

A bill proposed by Congress, the “Free Flow of Information Bill,” would have required all reporters down to bloggers to obtain government licenses. Lenin and Stalin used mass propaganda by “licensed” government writers to lead the Great Unwashed to communism.

The Pacific Legal Foundation issued a statement saying, “Once a step is taken toward government deciding what is ‘true’ or ‘false’ or which views are ‘worthwhile,’ it is only a matter of time until politicians with ideological agendas (decide what can or cannot be said.)”

“Power,” to quote George Orwell again, “is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”

Conclusion: If we as free people try to avoid controversy and conflict by not speaking truth to lunacy and to tyranny from whatever source, we will lose our right to speak at all and, in the process, our souls. We will find ourselves huddled in tiny corners of terror and there will be no one, as World War II poet Martin Niemoller concluded, “left to speak for me.”

As George Washington said, “If the freedom to speak is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

Charles W. Sasser, author of over 60 books, is currently working on Looneyville USA—a book so non-PC in a PC world that it may never be allowed publication.