“For the first time in American history, free speech is threatened. This has never happened before,” said Dennis Prager, a radio talk show host and founder of Prager University.
“It was the only thing Americans all agreed on: I may not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll fight for your right to say it,” Prager said in an interview with The Epoch Times for the “American Thought Leaders” program.
Prager stars with popular comedian and podcaster Adam Carolla in a new documentary film, “No Safe Spaces.” The film, directed by Justin Folk, calls out censorship and restrictions on free speech at universities, especially the proliferation of “safe spaces” across college campuses in America.
“If you are triggered, which means in any way offended, feel bad about a speaker coming to campus with whom you differ, you can retreat to a place—it’s got a sign. It says ‘safe space,’” Prager said.
In these safe spaces, students can interact with like-minded individuals and not feel like they have to defend their racial, sexual, gender, religious, or political identities.
In some campus safe spaces, you could be given “a hot chocolate, Play-Doh, stuffed animals, and frolicking kitten videos to calm you and make you feel better,” Prager said.
“It is not possible to overstate how pathetic the existence of safe spaces is,” Prager said. “What the college is doing, of course, is infantilizing its students.”
Across the country, many professors now provide “trigger warnings” to warn students that they may be exposed to content that they find distressing or traumatizing. According to an NPR Ed survey of more than 800 undergraduate instructors in 2016, about half of them have used trigger warnings.
Universities have also canceled talks or appearances by conservative speakers, or charged student groups that invite them with hefty fees for security personnel.
At Middlebury College, protestors shouted down conservative speaker Dr. Charles Murray, author of “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.” As he was trying to leave, protestors began pushing him. Allison Stanger, a professor and a Democrat who was supposed to debate Murray at the event, tried to shield Murray from the protesters.
As a result, she was shoved and her hair was pulled by protesters. The incident left her with whiplash and a concussion, merely “for having the audacity to engage with the ideas of Charles Murray,” Stanger said in an op-ed in The New York Times.
At the University of California—Berkeley, students in February 2017 became violent in their protests of a scheduled appearance by right-wing political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos. Protestors threw smoke bombs, knocked over barrier fences, and set off fires, according to police. Yiannopoulos’s speech was canceled.
In Prager’s view, free speech is a fundamental and distinguishing value of America.
“It’s why the French gave America the Statue of Liberty and no other country,” Prager said.
He pointed to the example of Holocaust denial, which is outlawed in many European countries.
“In Europe, you’re not allowed to deny the Holocaust. You go to prison.” But in the United States, Holocaust denial isn’t illegal.
While Prager is himself Jewish, he agrees Holocaust denial shouldn’t be banned.
Although Holocaust deniers are “the scummiest of the scum,” Prager said, “we know that if we ban Holocaust denial today, tomorrow we’re going to ban things that are not lies. It’s inevitable.
“Who determines whether or not you can speak?”
When Prager was a graduate student of international affairs at Columbia University, he found himself stunned by the “idiocies” of what he was learning.
“I was taught the Soviet Union and the United States were equally responsible for the Cold War. Truman was a moral equivalent to Stalin when I went to Columbia. This is not new. It’s just gotten worse,” Prager said.
“Why is this happening? Why is this happening?” Prager asked himself. Then one day, he had an “epiphany”—the only epiphany he’s had in his lifetime.
“It was sort of like the clouds parted and a ray of truth of unbelievable importance hit me,” Prager said. “I was walking around the Columbia campus. I was about 22 years old, and I’m thinking, you know, I’m going out of my mind. I’m learning nonsense. But very bright people are teaching me drivel.”
Suddenly, a verse from the Bible entered his mind, one that had been hidden in the recesses of his memory from when he regularly recited it in kindergarten at Jewish religious school.
It was from Psalm 111: “Wisdom begins with fear of God.”
“That’s why there’s no wisdom at Columbia. There’s no God at Columbia,” Prager said. “And that has stayed with me. The secular world produces knowledge and no wisdom.”
In many cases, “the secular intellectual” is “a moral idiot,” Prager said. “The only people to support Stalin in the West were intellectuals.”
In Prager’s view, those who donate to universities are allowing their money “to hurt civilization.”
“I have no joy in saying that. I’m an intellectual. I love writing. I love reading. I love the world of ideas. I love the world of the mind,” Prager said. But today, universities, especially the non-STEM departments, are “worse than wastelands.”
“Political correctness is way too mild a term. There’s no such thing today as higher education. There’s higher indoctrination,” Prager said. “When you send your kid to college, you are playing Russian roulette with their values.”
While the Christian seminary is honest about its goals—namely to produce committed Christians—“the university does not admit its goal to produce committed leftists,” Prager said. “You come out with contempt for the founders of the United States. You come out with contempt for America. You come out believing that black or white is important.”
He points to changes in curriculum at the University of California–Los Angeles. Until 2011, students majoring in English had to take one course in Chaucer, two in Shakespeare, and one in Milton. But in 2011, the requirement was changed. Now, he says, all English majors must take three courses from among the following four areas: Gender Race, Ethnicity, Disability, and Sexuality Studies; Imperial, Transnational, and Postcolonial Studies; Genre Studies, Interdisciplinary Studies, Critical Theory; or Creative Writing.
At the University of Pennsylvania, students removed a large Shakespeare portrait from a central staircase in the English department and replaced it with Audre Lorde, a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.”
The painting of Shakespeare, author of “the greatest English literature in the history of English literature,” Prager said, was removed because “he was a dead, white European male.”
“That’s why they’re racist. The left is racist. They care about your blood and your pigment much more than we do,” Prager said.
In Prager’s view, leftists support racial segregation. That’s why institutions such as Harvard and Columbia University have black graduation ceremonies and why many universities have an all-black dorm.
“An all-black dorm is supported by the Ku Klux Klan and the left,” Prager said.
Prager sees race as utterly inconsequential. But in some places, to say that race is insignificant is considered a “microaggression,” a denial of people’s cultural differences or a failure to recognize how a minority group has been historically oppressed.
The University of California–Los Angeles provides a tool sheet for faculty to recognize “microaggressions,” which it defines as slights or insults—which can be verbal or nonverbal, intentional or unintentional—that “communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages” to people, based “solely upon their marginalized group membership.”
Based on this sheet, saying any of the following statements constitutes a microaggression: “America is a melting pot,” “America is the land of opportunity,” or “Everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough.”
The university, Prager said, is “morally sick.”
“The left has never believed in freedom. Never. Of speech or anything else,” Prager said.
“I draw a huge distinction between liberal and left every time I write, every time I speak,” Prager said. According to Prager, both liberals and conservatives believe in freedom, but leftists oppose it. And leftists will “destroy liberalism.”
The yearning for freedom is not a human instinct, it’s a learned value, he said.
“People yearn to be taken care of, not to be free,” Prager said.
In the ideal world of a leftist, “the government takes care of you. The government takes care of your family, the government takes care of your community.”
“That’s a nightmare to me—that the government or someone else will take care of me,” Prager said.
“I want to take care of me. I want to take care of my family. I want to take care of my community,” he said. “That was the American ideal.”
“The left, of course, is totalitarian. All leftism everywhere has a totalitarian temptation. The only thing that stops the left in America from being totalitarian is that they don’t have full power. But wherever they have full power, they’re totalitarian. The college campus is the most obvious example,” Prager said.
“No Safe Spaces” features individuals from across the political spectrum speaking out against the concept of emotionally protecting students from dissenting opinions, including footage of former President Barack Obama and left-leaning commentator Van Jones.
“I don’t expect to agree with people on everything. But if we can’t agree on free speech, we agree on nothing,” Prager said.
“American Thought Leaders” is an Epoch Times show available on Facebook, YouTube, and the Epoch Times website.
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