Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Without truth, there is chaos.

In a day where talking heads and cults-of-personality too often dominate the campus conservative discourse, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ poised and powerful speech earlier this month at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia cut through the noise surrounding the issue of free expression in education.

Avoiding unnecessary hyperbole or falling into the trap of sensationalism, DeVos spoke with authority about the troubling situations that have unfolded on too many campuses when conservatives attempt to speak, briefly mentioning her own experience on the receiving end of a heckler’s veto. 

But instead of making the situation about herself and what she’s faced from intolerant leftists, DeVos delivered a stinging indictment of moral relativism, a “pernicious philosophy” that DeVos rightly points out “is the threat America’s campuses face today.” 

In a line that could as easily have come from one of Young America’s Foundation’s campus lectures by the likes of Ben Shapiro or Christina Hoff Sommers, DeVos condemned moral relativists who demand their own truth: “Our self-centered culture denies truth because acknowledging it would mean certain feelings or certain ideas could be wrong. But no one wants to be wrong. It is much easier to feel comfortable in saying there is no truth—nothing that could challenge what we want to believe.”

This derivative fear of facing inconvenient truths is at the heart of every campus controversy, heckler’s veto, speaker ban, and free speech zone that seeks to quell the free and open exchange of ideas or stifle free expression. 

Why did administrators at Ripon College recently decry YAF’s 9/11: Never Forget Project posters? They were afraid of some of their more fragile students having to face the fact that radical Islamic terror is a serious threat to our freedom. 

Why was Ben Shapiro threatened with arrest if he dared to set foot on DePaul University’s campus? Because administrators there didn’t want their students—whose “truths” conflicted with Shapiro’s ideas—to have to face claims of absolute truth. 

Why did the University of California, Berkeley, only want conservatives to speak while students were off-campus or tied up in classes? Again, so their students and their relative truths wouldn’t be challenged. 

In order to appease their relativist students, schools now choose to silence those who propose there are absolute truths, and objectively good and evil things.

The danger in this strategy adopted by administrators across the country is evident, as DeVos stated: ”Abandoning truth creates confusion. Confusion leads to censorship. And censorship inevitably invites chaos on campuses, and elsewhere.”

In those three simple sentences, DeVos hits the nail on the head: In the absence of truth, chaos thrives. College administrators can argue against this simple truth, but the evidence is overwhelming. 

At a time where colleges and universities routinely take action to suppress conservative students, ideas, and speakers, this major address on the First Amendment in education is the latest significant step taken by DeVos’ Department of Education to champion the constitutional rights of American students.

There’s hardly a day that goes by without a student calling me or my colleagues at Young America’s Foundation to tell us of a situation similar to the ones DeVos touched on in her address. For too long, the plight of conservative students—or any student who finds their free expression being stifled—has been ignored, and it is refreshing to have Cabinet officials champion the critical role of free speech in our free society. In the midst of the mayhem on campus, conservative students should glean hope and optimism in knowing that at the highest levels of our nation’s government sits a champion for their cause who understands the fight they’re engaged in—the fight for truth.

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