Open dialogue, and open minds

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Free speech is supported by the simple willingness to hear others out.

THOSE WHO FOLLOW the news have heard about plenty of incidents at college campuses across America in which a speaker - usually one with a conservative viewpoint - has been bullied and hectored from an appearance by loud and sometimes physically intimidating protesters, seemingly with the complicit indifference of administrators.

So let's pause to praise Beloit College in matters related to last week's lecture by former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. He spoke to about 100 people Wednesday at Pearsons Hall, discussing a number of important issues such as the U.S. Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court system.

His appearance was hosted by a conservative student group, Young Americans for Freedom. Another group, Students for an Inclusive Campus, had sent a letter to administrators in opposition to the Ashcroft appearance. Yet the lecture went forward. And there were no demonstrations or rude interruptions during Ashcroft's presentation.

BELOIT COLLEGE did it right. All colleges should approach such matters with similar resolve.

If there's any place on the planet where open minds and free speech should be welcome and common and protected, it should be at institutions of higher education. Ideas are the lifeblood of learning, and no individual or group ever should be allowed to think it can exercise authority over what can and cannot be discussed and debated.

In America, there's no such thing as enforced orthodoxy of the human mindset. There are no ideas too far outside the mainstream, demanding official suppression. Protecting free speech always means defending speech with which we may disagree - perhaps vehemently - because speech we support and accept needs no protection.

In a free society the proper response to abhorrent speech is not prohibition, but more speech - winning the argument, not suppressing the speech or the idea.

Beloit College quietly and effectively stood up for the foundational American principles of free speech and the free exchange of ideas. We applaud.

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