Commentary: Time to share Mike Pence’s microphone

By John Krull
TheStatehouseFile.com 

INDIANAPOLIS – It’s spring again and, once more, the commencement season is upon us.

This means that there are fresh opportunities for repression on college campuses.

The latest episode of trying to shut down free speech comes from a strange place, Indiana’s own Taylor University.

John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com

Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to deliver the school’s commencement address on May 18. But a large and growing number of students, alumni, faculty members and other friends of the university want Taylor to rescind the invitation and deny Pence the opportunity to speak.

The controversy has attracted national attention – largely because Taylor is a determinedly evangelical Christian institution. Those upset about Pence coming to campus say he does not reflect their faith and their understanding of Jesus’s teachings. The fact that even some conservative evangelical Christians are upset with Pence’s often extreme positions spells some political trouble for the vice president.

But that’s also beside the point.

Mike Pence and I disagree about many things, but I’m on his side on this one.

He should be allowed to speak, but not for the reason some of his other defenders have advanced.

They argue that yanking back his invitation to speak is censorship.

It isn’t.

By the classic definition, only government can censor expression. Taylor University is a private institution and can choose to have anyone it wishes to speak on campus. But, by the same right, it also can choose not to have someone speak – just as you, I or anyone else can choose to say or not say what we please.

So, Taylor would be within its rights to pull back Pence’s invitation and find another commencement speaker.

Doing so, though, would be a bad idea.

I am not sure when we came to the belief in this country that we never would encounter a thought, an idea or an expression that offends us or with which we disagree. Part of the point of learning is encountering ideas that challenge us to rethink assumptions or – here’s a notion – change our minds because we have discovered new evidence.

The risk in all this is that, from time to time, we will be confronted with arguments or beliefs that annoy us. Some may even make our blood boil.

But that’s the price of living in a society that values not just freedom but also wisdom. To shut down discourse is to cut off opportunities for learning and understanding.

Worse, doing so signals that we are afraid of ideas.

Fear never carries the day.

That’s why the solution to bad speech is never no speech.

Rather, it is more speech.

Better speech.

Wiser speech.

Instead of seeing Mike Pence’s commencement speech as a threat, the members of the Taylor community who disagree with him should see it as an opportunity.

A chance to teach.

Among other things, the vice president of the United States drags one of the biggest and most effective microphones in the world around with him.

The Taylor students, alumni, faculty members and friends who argue that Mike Pence doesn’t reflect their Christian beliefs should use his arrival on campus to engage in a debate about what Christianity is. They should schedule events before and after the vice president’s arrival on campus to educate people about their beliefs.

They won’t have a better opportunity.

Taylor University isn’t likely to be home to this many TV cameras, microphones and reporters for the next 10, 15 or 20 years. If you want to talk about what Christ really demands of Christians, you never again will have the chance to do so before an audience this large.

Don’t run from Mike Pence’s ideas.

Confront them.

Counter them.

Make the answer to bad speech more speech.

Better speech.

Wiser speech.

It’s commencement season.

At Taylor University, May 18 should be the day a debate commences.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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