Our view on public speakers and protests

Civil discourse has been replaced by the lowest form of communication — shouting louder than those with whom you disagree.

How sad it is that we can no longer discuss issues, whether in person or online. Rather than debate with facts, too many seem content to shut down communication with screams of outrage, real or imagined.

A good example of this is a commencement speech Wednesday by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at Bethune-Cookman University in Florida.

Controversy has surrounded DeVos since her appointment to the position by President Donald Trump. Her credentials have been questioned because she has no classroom experience, as have the reasons for her selection (she and her family have made sizable donations to politicians and political causes over the years). While that’s fair fodder for review, her treatment at Bethune-Cookman University was far beyond the pale.

DeVos in February created a rift in the African-American community when she described historically black colleges — Bethune-Cookman is certainly among them — as real “pioneers when it comes to school choice.” She later back-tracked, recognizing it was racism and necessity that resulted in such schools and choice had little role whatsoever.

In protest of the school’s decision to invite DeVos to speak at graduation, dozens of students turned their backs to the lectern, while others shouted things such as “liar” or “just go” as others booed loudly.

The education secretary powered on, at one point urging the crowd to “choose to hear one another out,” although cutting her expected speaking time in half. The university’s president, Edison Jackson, chastised the students, threatening to end the ceremony and mail degrees.

Good for him and, despite whatever validity there might be to the debate over DeVos’ background, good for her for not caving in to subterfuge.

Too many times recently, schools have acquiesced to the decisions of the disgruntled who believe they should be able to override a person’s right to speech simply because they don’t agree with the person’s viewpoints or political leanings.

White nationalist Richard Spencer, conservative commentator Ann Coulter, libertarian scientist Charles Murray are just a few of the voices silenced under the guise of protecting the speaker or students. As repulsive as some of these personal beliefs might be to some, they deserve the same protection as the viewpoints of those opposed to them.

How ironic so many of these cases involve college campuses, once considered the bulwarks of free speech and the open exchange of ideas. It’s even more ludicrous that many of those challenging the right to speak are about to enter into the real world.

Rest assured, many of them are in for a rude awakening. It isn’t possible to hide behind an angry-faced Emoji or an anonymous comment board forever.