Ohio bill protects 'conservatives' from democracy

Ohio bill protects 'conservatives' from democracy
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We should thank Jerry Cirino. It’s not every day that a Republican says the quiet part out loud – that when it comes to free speech, the point is not liberty for all, but liberty for some Republicans to say what they want, to force the rest of us to listen and, critically, to prevent the rest of us from talking back.

The Ohio state senator spoke after the Ohio Senate passed legislation last week that, according to the Ohio Capital Journal, “focuses on what Republicans call ‘free speech,’ banning public universities in Ohio from having ‘bias’ in the classroom and limiting what ‘controversial topics’ can and can’t be taught.”

The goal, reportedly, is creating “safe spaces” for “conservatives” on campus.

Cirino, who sponsored the bill, said it frees people “from the pressure to agree with a single ideological perspective, which dominates our campuses today.”

Cirino shouldn’t have said that.

He should have said what a fellow Republican said.

State Representative Josh Williams told local TV reporters that he believes that “conservatives feel discriminated against on campus.” He cited his experience at the University of Toledo’s law school. “If you had an opposing view, you would just call that individual a fascist, a Nazi, as a way of quashing their speech and making their comments and their positions irrelevant,” he said.

We’re used to hearing about discrimination, but Cirino didn’t do that.

Instead, Cirino said that Senate 83 would, if enacted into state law, liberate “conservatives” from “the pressure to agree” with – well, it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that conservatives feel pressured. What matters is that this feeling, to these conservatives, constitutes an infringement on their rights and liberties. What matters is that these infringements demand action, even though such action will infringe someone's rights and liberties. Free speech for everyone isn’t the point. The point is ensuring that conservatives feel free.

Let’s step back for a minute to say that in every context in which human beings agree to organize themselves, there’s a prevailing way of thinking about the world that influences how those involved operate. This is true in public and private. This is true in families. This is true in businesses. This is true in governments. Everywhere is some kind of “single ideological perspective.”

We usually don’t call it that, however. We don’t call it anything, because the status quo (or consensus), while it influences our choices, is invisible. It’s invisible, because most people most of the time, in a context in which human beings agree to organize themselves, generally accept it for what it is.

Until they don’t.

Every context has a “single ideological perspective.” But rarely, if ever, is the status quo (or consensus) so dominant that it silences, by force of law, the views of individuals who generally accept it for what it is. Everyone’s got an opinion. They are not policed, with rare exception. Does that mean everyone is free to say whatever they want whenever they want free of consequences?


Contrary to what Republican lawmakers want us to believe, conservative thinking is very much present on university campuses. Conservative thinking (however it’s defined) is among a host of ways of thinking about the world.

Contrary to what Republican lawmakers want us to believe, universities are marketplaces where participants persuade each other that a way of thinking about the world is the right way (even if that way of thinking about the world concedes that all, or most, ways of thinking about the world are meritorious).

Persuasion on university campuses is the status quo (or consensus). Persuasion is the “single ideological perspective” that makes conservatives uncomfortable.

It makes them uncomfortable, because persuasion is pressure – a democratic pressure – that demands that we open our minds. Conservatives don’t want pressure. They want to be told they’re right. If they aren’t, they can’t feel free.

Ohio Senate Bill 83 doesn’t create “safe spaces” in which conservatives can feel safe from discrimination, though that’s what they want us to believe.

It creates spaces in which conservatives can feel safe from the pressure of being persuaded to open their minds – safe from doubt about what they believe to be true. As persuasion is democratic, the legislation does something else for conservatives. It protects them from the pressures of democracy.

Democracy isn’t safe.

That might not have been clear before Jerry Cirino said as much.

Thanks, Jerry.

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