JA: Senator DeMint, thank you so much for sitting down with me. To jump right into it, over the past year and a half, free speech has become one of the most pressing issues on college campuses. We’ve seen uninvited guests, the proliferation of so called “safe spaces,” and a growing aversion to tolerating speech that we might find offensive or speech that might be something that we disagree with. So, my first question is, what do you see as the cause of this phenomenon over the past couple of years.
JD: Well, first, I think we need to recognize that a vibrant and dynamic and prosperous civil society depends on the free exchange of ideas and opinions and debate. That’s what keeps diversity healthy. If people in a diverse society feel oppressed by somebody else’s opinion, they are no longer comfortable in that environment. What we found in America for many years, despite our problems, is that we could maintain a wide diversity of opinions, lifestyles, as long as people were free to live their own lives as they want. When you start muzzling people, you start actually repressing those freedoms and you cause a lot of problems. Now, what happens on campuses today, is that a lot of people are demanding the right not to hear a contrary opinion, the right not to hear something that they may disagree with. They are closing their minds in many ways. That’s not the way to learn and grow. Even listening to things you disagree with, many times you can find something there that confirms your own opinions strengthen your opinion on something if you hear somebody else argue their [opinion]. So why it’s happen is because there is a strong inclination growing in connection to American control. It’s not about diversity as much as about uniformity. And people close down debate, they try to control what people think, what they believe. This is a collectivist mindset that works its way through public policy, the same schools for everyone, the same healthcare for everyone. It’s the same thing for everyone.
JA: Would you say that this promotes the leftist agenda? When we have this uniformity of thought why does it seems to be collecting on the left as opposed to somewhere in the middle?
JD: Definitely. I think while you find people on the right with strong opinions, you don’t find many people on the right who want to shut other people up. They may not like the opinion, and there may be some of them that are not necessarily the best representatives of freedom of speech, but, for the most part, this muzzling of free speech is coming from the left. It is grown out of a liberal mindset, which has become very illiberal and intolerant. They irony now is the intolerance is coming from the left. They are the ones that have been talking about tolerance for years.
JA: Do you think that there are any types of speech that ought to be censored?
JD: I think that if people are promoting violence and insurrection in any type of organization, that is not really something I would encourage. When it is a campus like Yale, they have to maintain order. Civility is important to open discourse. If people are not civil, then it is not part of a free speech process. It is usually part of intimidation. So, yes, I think that there have got to be some guidelines. We have to be civil and courteous, but the whole point is to share opinions and to debate those ideas. It tends to build a strong and cohesive society with a lot of diversity.
JA: Do you think that academic censorship raises questions that political censorship may not? In other words, while most would say that political opinions ought not be censored, far fewer Americans would say that biology teachers should be teaching creationism. Is there an inherent difference between these types of censorship?
JD: There’s a big difference in purpose. In academia, you would assume more free thinking and considering all options and opinions to come to an objective truth about things. You would think that more open discussion would be invited. Now, politics is deciding public policy, which is a very different purpose. You do have to be careful in politics, and what I found when I would express an opinion was that people would automatically assume that I want that to be public policy. So, I have to be careful when I share an opinion [as a politician], but you shouldn’t as a student or as a professor. I know that I used to teach at a college campus, and sometimes I would say things that I knew were not true to stimulate discussion and hear debate. If you’re so confined that you cannot throw out different ideas and challenge peoples’ thinking, you really close down the mind and that whole investigative way of thinking about things, and I think that in academia you should question everything.