Free speech for me—but not for thee

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Photo by Patrick Vitale

Several weeks ago, University of Dallas alum Bethany Beeler, who identifies as a transgender woman, wrote an open letter to UD’s board of trustees demanding that they fire Dr. David Upham. Beeler’s letter responded to Upham’s Facebook post about the appointment of Dr. Rachel Levine, a biological man who identifies as a transgender woman, as assistant secretary of Health and Human Services.

Upham’s brief comments criticized the appointment of Levine on several grounds, observing that although Levine is biologically male, Levine has a “somewhat convincing” feminine appearance due to hormonal treatments and feminine clothing. 

Under Biden’s policies, gender identity is protected from discrimination, ensuring that individuals will be recognized for their gender as they have identified it, not according to their biological sex. Upham observed that, regardless of their own beliefs, government workers will have to address Levine—a biological male— using female pronouns. 

Levine previously rebuked a reporter for engaging in “insulting” behavior (calling Levine a man), and Biden’s recent executive order prevents such “mistreatment of” transgender individuals. As a result, it is fair to infer that assistant HHS secretary Levine will punish employees for using male pronouns when referring to Levine. Some will be forced to speak or affirm ideas that contradict their own beliefs every day. 

Based on the wording of Beeler’s letter, which accused Upham of “unreasoning hatred,” readers could assume that Upham had explicitly called for imminent attacks against transgender people. But his statement says nothing of the sort. Calls for violence and hatred are nowhere to be found. 

I was particularly struck by Beeler’s accusation of “unreasoning hatred.” No one is more unreasonable than the person who obstinately believes something and refuses to listen to criticism. Imagine telling a friend that you believe he or she is mistaken, only to have your friend respond by covering both ears. Your friend is acting unreasonably.

Beeler, meanwhile, suggests a refusal to engage with Upham or with anyone with Upham’s beliefs. In the letter, Beeler states: “I no longer argue such points of view that persons like Prof. Upham here espouses.”

Upham welcomes debate routinely and has never called for anyone to inflict violence or harm upon any person. In fact, his comments called for United States senators to reject the appointment. He called for expressly legal and peaceful action.  

Beeler presumes to know Upham’s motives based on a paragraph posted on Facebook, refuses to engage in reasoned argument with Upham, condemns Upham for his presumed beliefs and calls for his removal from an influential position. Beeler clearly is not the reasonable one in this discussion.

I hope my fellow students realize what’s going on here. This isn’t a debate over kindness or biology. This is part of a broader fight raging in universities across the country. On one side is the right to state your beliefs and defend them, even if they offend people.

On the other side? There lies the temptation to muzzle others, to intimidate them into silence and to get them fired—just because their beliefs offend you.

If the silencers win, then freedom of speech dies. If everyone has the right to silence those with whom they disagree, then no one will have the right to speak at all. Such a situation is fundamentally unworkable and could only result in one side silencing the other. 

In spite of Beeler’s UD education, Beeler seems to have forgotten these basic principles of fairness and free speech. “Free speech” doesn’t exist at all when only one side can voice its opinion with impunity. In order for free speech to exist, it has to remain a two-way street.

I am proud that the university not only has defended Upham, but also has taken a stand for free speech. I join UD’s defense and invite you to do the same.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Says Mr. Hasson here, without elaboration or further quoting of the correspondence — undersigned by 66 UD alumni, we are told — he refers to: “Bethany Beeler, who identifies as a transgender woman, wrote an open letter to UD’s board of trustees demanding that they fire Dr. David Upham.” Mr. Hasson must, or should and very easily could, know better.

    This matter having been already discussed at some length on these pages, regular readers will know that no such “demand” was made. Rather, an entirely appropriate — it seems to me, anyway — rhetorical question was pointedly asked as concerns Professor Upham, thus: “Is this the kind of behavior and person UD wants to place in front of children growing into young adults?” And a perfectly reasonable — again, in my view — request was made, thus: “Reassure our faith in the Western intellectual and theological tradition by providing no haven or pulpit for those espousing hate out of fear of difference.”

    I join those alumni asking for such reassurance, whatever meaningful form it might take.

    • “I (and the undersigned) therefore ASK THE BISHOP CHANCELLOR, BOARD OF TRUSTEES, THE FACULTY SENATE, THE PRESIDENT, AND THE PROVOST TO REMOVE PROF. UPHAM from a
      position in which he feels free to broadcast such hatred that hardly reflects the love of Christ
      or the mission of the University of Dallas”

      Beeler’s exact words.

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