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‘Free speech,’ seen from the left, the right, and the middle

The bandwagon is headed for a cliff

I wish to commend Jeff Jacoby on his article regarding the “free speech” rally on Boston Common (“On Boston Common, free speech took a beating,” Opinion, Aug. 23).

At the risk of incurring the wrath of the righteous, I must say that most fair-minded, nonpartisan people recognize we have a problem — in our country, in our media, and most particularly on our college campuses — with speech that conflicts with the popular narrative. Tyranny on the left is no more virtuous than tyranny on the right.

The bandwagon leading the parade to stifle contrary opinions will go over the cliff if it continues to be guided by a compass which points in only one direction. Imposing taboos on discomforting conversations only thickens the walls of the echo chamber. Pretending that beliefs that are not compatible with the prevailing orthodoxy are heretical just fuels the fires of partisanship that are consuming our society.

It’s the mentality that fed the Inquisition. It takes impressive fortitude and conviction for Mr. Jacoby to regularly hurl himself against the liberal tide that surges from the Globe’s editorial page.


Michael Sheehy

The left is silenced far more often than the right

RE Joan Vennochi’s “Protecting speech we hate” (Opinion, Aug. 15): The right is no stranger to silencing free speech. President Trump has claimed people should be jailed for burning a US flag. The US government has attempted to make it a felony to participate in a boycott of Israel. Leftist protesters are constantly arrested, not for encouraging violence, but for acts of peaceful disruption. At times, this even extends to journalists covering protests. The Espionage Act, incredibly, is still law, and has been used to prosecute whistle-blowers who share information with the press, from Snowden to Manning.

Yet when white supremacists take to the streets and incite violence, then the free speech advocates come out in droves. Stand up for free speech, if you want to. But do it consistently, not just when it’s neo-Nazis practicing it. And stop pretending that attempts to silence the extreme right is why our free speech is under threat. It is under threat, but the left is prosecuted far more than the right.


Gerard Connolly
Roxbury Crossing

Don’t let extremists set the agenda

RE the “skirmishes” and arrests referenced in your coverage of the “free speech” rally (Page A1, Aug. 20): As a longtime activist for over 25 years, one of the things I would notice about our past protests (e.g., pertaining to NATO’s illegal and savage bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999) — many in the Boston area — was that it was difficult to control who would participate in the protests and, as a result, fringe elements with alternative agendas to our own would work their way into our groups and often disrupt our peaceful and civil demonstrations. I think that this happened during the recent tragedy in Charlottesville, Va. Many of these extremist groups only want to provoke violence. They thrive on conflict and the national attention it merits to promote their distorted views. They want to segregate Americans to the point that we have civil war.

We who love our country must resist these divisive efforts to initiate conflict, as we will all lose when chaos overtakes our largely peaceful society. I worry about the ever-increasing violence that is occurring around the world. We cannot allow extremists to set the agenda for our future.


Michael Pravica
Henderson, Nev.

Both speech and thought were stifled

A free speech rally in Boston was stopped short by force. The mayor of Boston brags that violence was avoided and everything went well — except for one thing. What happened to free speech? Did anyone actually listen to the words this group spoke before their right to speak was removed by force? Did they say a single hateful word? Nada.

What has happened to Patrick Henry’s “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!” I used to hear the thought that an American would fight to the death to protect the rights of others to freedom of speech and thought and religion. Not in Boston today. Maybe not in America ever again. Yes, I understand vigilance against ideologies of hate — I lost most of my family in two world wars — but I have never seen this bully before, not in my home town. If you are not on the correct side, you are now called a racist, and the powerful take away your tongue.

John Phillip Gusdon