First-Amendment Camp

In a delightful turnaround, the doyens of political correctness are being forced to swallow their own medicine. We've all heard stories about college campuses where students who offend the reigning liberal orthodoxy are subject to sensitivity training. Well, the tables are being turned. A few months ago at the University of California in Riverside, the administration itself was required to undergo a sensitivity training course—this time a course on the First Amendment. It seems the administration had punished members of a student fraternity for wearing T-shirts that featured a Mexican sitting on a beach. A militant Chicano group on campus protested that the T-shirt was racist. Campus officials immediately revoked the fraternity's campus recognition and required its members to perform 16 hours of community service, while attending seminars in multicultural awareness. But in this case the forces of political correctness were brought skidding to an abrupt halt. A lawyer with the Individual Rights Foundation brought suit against the university—and amazingly, campus officials backed down. They acknowledged that the school had violated the fraternity members' right of free speech and agreed to attend a training course in First Amendment principles. The irony in all this is delightful. Yet what we're seeing is not simply tit for tat. Campus speech wars are a symptom of a much deeper warfare in the world of ideas—one that Christians desperately need to understand. The defenders of free speech are heirs of the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason. The Enlightenment ideal was that rational minds, stripped of the restraints of religion and tradition, could arrive at an objective consensus on what is true and good. The right of free speech was taken to mean that rational discourse is the path to truth. But today the Enlightenment ideal is under severe attack by campus radicals. The radicals say it is impossible to strip the mind of tradition and other preconceptions. It is impossible to conduct rational discourse that is objective and neutral. Every statement is inevitably colored by the speaker's class, race, and gender. In short, radicals argue, it is impossible to have free speech in the Enlightenment sense. Stanley Fish of Duke University has even written a book bluntly titled, There's No Such Thing as Free Speech. Our college campuses are caught in a face-off between modern Enlightenment rationalism and postmodern relativism. And for Christians, this is a unique opportunity: We can offer a perspective that leads the way out of the impasse. You see, Christianity rejects the Enlightenment claim that the human mind has god-like powers to find absolute truth on its own. The Bible teaches that human beings are finite and sinful. But we also reject the postmodernist retreat into radical relativism. Human beings can know the truth—because God has spoken. He has given us divine revelation, and His Word guides us into truth in every area of life. This is the good news we can bring to our fractured culture. The Bible offers a balanced perspective that lifts us beyond the PC wars.


Chuck Colson


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