Homophobic, Racist, Xenophobic Conservative Jesus Freak Todd Starnes Doesn't Understand Freedom of Speech

02/03/2017 09:12 am ET Updated Feb 04, 2018

Conservatives often claim that any news that doesn't support their narrative is "fake news" yet many of these same people are oblivious to how fictitious the information they report as news really is. A recent article by Fox News contributor Todd Starnes in response to the protests at the University of California Berkeley offer an excellent example of this hypocrisy.

The concern from Starnes and other conservatives is that a speech by an alt-right author was shut down by protesters that felt the author, who had been kicked off Twitter for incessantly harassing and bullying SNL star Leslie Jones with racist comments, should not be allowed to speak on campus. To Starnes these protests show that "the Left is absolutely terrified of free speech".

It seems that the irony of this statement is lost on many conservatives. The students that are protesting are simply exercising their right to free speech. They were not protesting him as a person or his right to speak. They were protesting his hate speech. The reality is the speaker was not physically prevented from speaking by the protesters. He could just as easily have taken his act to another venue. His right to free speech was in no way infringed upon by these students.

The first amendment doesn't protect everyone's right to say whatever they want whenever and wherever they choose. Just as Congress doesn't have to allow a person who wants to extol the virtues of Sharia Law a forum to speak, the school has no obligation to allow every person who wants to hold an event to do so. Many of these same conservatives certainly had no qualms with protesting the Duke University decision to allow Muslims to use the university's chapel bell tower for Friday prayers. Notre Dame Students and alumni didn't have any problems protesting President Obama due to his views on abortion. And it seems few conservatives argued for free speech when Bill Ayers was disinvited to speak by multiple colleges and universities.

In fact while Fox News, and Starnes in particular, would have you believe that there is an epidemic of schools censoring conservative speakers, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) keeps records on such occurrences and has found that less than 60% of speakers who were the targets of disinvitation protests came from the left. There may be a rash of speaker protests sweeping the country, but the political leanings of the protesters is far more evenly divided then conservatives would have you believe.

Of course part of Starnes' issue is the fact that the UC Berkeley protests resulted in damage to the student union and a few physical confrontations. While the vast majority of liberals will tell you there is no place for these sorts of actions in a protest, the focus on violence and destruction from conservatives is again very self-serving. Many of the same people that claimed the protests against Donald Trump late last year were stocked with hired professional protesters only seem to hold that view when the protests are peaceful. As soon as things turn violent these conservative talking heads suggest this is par for the course with liberal protests. Either these protests represent liberals/Democrats or they don't. Picking and choosing which events contain the true liberals/Democrats based on how it fits your personal or political narrative exposes a bias and hypocrisy that makes it difficult to take these talking heads seriously.

Having said that, many of these same conservatives didn't seem to have a problem with citizens pointing guns at federal agents during a dispute over grazing fees or the armed takeover of public lands in Oregon. They also don't seem very concerned about the racist and pro-Trump property damage and vandalism at universities and other locations across the country. And while physical violence is clearly a problem in what should be peaceful disagreements, you'll notice that for people like Todd Starnes, conservatives attacked by liberals are victims yet liberals attacked by conservatives are agitators that got what they deserved.

But perhaps the most disturbing idea that Starnes seems to support is removing federal funding for any "public universities that want to silence conservative voices". You'll notice he didn't say for public universities that want to stop free speech. He said for those who want to silence conservative voices. Perhaps this is because he is so ill informed on the breakdown of who is being protested at college campuses; but more likely it's because he truly feels anyone who identifies as conservative should be given carte blanche over all public spaces.

This is an extraordinarily dangerous opinion which Starnes should be embarrassed to hold. Protecting every American's right to free speech and forcing public institutions to provide a forum for hate speech are two totally different things. Should Neo-Nazis be free to argue that there is a master race and that other races should be exterminated? Absolutely. Should all public universities be forced to provide a venue for this sort of speech? Absolutely not.

The problem here is that conservatives like Starnes are clueless on the duplicity of their positions, so they are fine with putting a gag order on government agencies that disagree with their beliefs, but letting public entities determine what qualifies as educational is unpatriotic and unconstitutional.

Of course few liberals would disagree with Starnes assessment that these aggressively racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic speakers trolling college campuses epitomize the views of conservative Republicans. If only he had the same sort of clarity on what qualifies as a restriction on free speech.