Amazon’s censorship reminds us of UD’s need to protect free speech

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Photo by Peter Burleigh

Amazon’s recent removal of Ryan T. Anderson’s book “When Harry Became Sally” is an attack by a major corporation on free speech. This restriction reinforces our duty to allow free speech to thrive in the pursuit of truth in our own social and academic spheres without letting our bias blind us to unintended social censorship.  

After Amazon removed Anderson’s book without warning and then refused to explain its action, Sens. Marco Rubio, Josh Hawley, Mike Braun and Mike Lee demanded that Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos explain this “political censorship.” Amazon responded on March 11, stating that Amazon “has chosen not to sell books that frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness.” Ryan Anderson claims that his book does no such thing. 

The debate rages on. 

There stand the facts of controversy surrounding “When Harry Became Sally.” My concern lies with those of the Republican senators: what does the removal of this book mean for free speech?

Last interterm at the University of Dallas, I had the opportunity to re-read and study “When Harry Became Sally” under Anderson’s guidance in his Natural Law and Public Affairs class. Both times I read it, I found the book to be what Anderson claims it to be: a well-articulated, compassionate and well-researched critique of the continuing discussion over transgenderism.

Regardless of where you fall on the transgenderism discussion, Anderson’s book is a valuable source of exposure to one side of the conversation. 

Amazon’s decision to pull this book from its cyber-shelves silences a valid and widely held opinion on an extremely important social issue and could prove to be devastating to American society.

Silencing people because they do not agree with us is a tragic error that damages our ability to discover what is actually true. If we allow this sort of behavior to continue unchecked from corporate giants like Amazon, we are beginning to concede our right to free speech.

I would be equally outraged if Amazon had removed a pro-transgenderism book of the same caliber as Anderson’s from its inventory. Regardless of your opinion or identity, we all share the same humanity, and we should be able to have a full and inclusive discussion encompassing both sides of the argument. 

Since most of us do not have the information or time to research these questions to their full extent, we rely on scholars to present us with the facts and details so that we may draw conclusions based on our understanding of ourselves and the truth. Always, this discernment requires treating both sides of an issue with equal care. 

Not only must we maintain this openness in a public and corporate sphere, we must also do so in our immediate culture and society. How can we expect respect and openness in a large sphere if we cannot maintain it on a small and personal one?

By nature of UD’s religious and political orientation, we tend to attract Catholic, conservative students. With this demographic, the prevailing opinion on campus tends to be conservative. I challenge UD to open the door wider.

UD prides itself on being an institution that creates independent thinkers. We are lucky to have this haven of intellectual freedom where non-woke opinions can be engaged. But if we claim to be independent thinkers, we must live it out.

Let us encourage conversation from the students who do not hold the popular beliefs on campus. Let us welcome dissenting opinions. Let us engage with the other side of the conversation. 

This openness to challenge and dialogue does not mean that UD’s catholic identity will be compromised. UD can maintain its mission of being a Catholic university while simultaneously living up to its claim of producing independent thinkers. 

The university does not have to endorse ideologies or opinions that are inconsistent with its mission or catholic doctrine. It does not need to codify these dissenting opinions in its institutional policies or procedures. UD can and should continue to stand up for what it believes is the truth. 

I am not advocating for a compromise of UD’s explicitly expressed values and beliefs (which I happen to share). I am simply pointing out that UD has a duty to its students, faculty and larger community to be a platform where the truth can be challenged and wrestled with. 

The UD community should actively support conversations on campus that deal with both sides of any given issue. We students should be willing to listen to those who disagree with us in a respectful and attentive manner. If all we ever encounter on campus simply reaffirms existing beliefs, how can we call ourselves independent thinkers?

Willingness to discuss both sides of an issue reinforces the validity of our personally held opinions. Lack of exposure or simple refusal to have these conversations signifies that we are either afraid of being proven wrong or content to live in ignorance.

I do not get that impression from either UD or its students.

The independent, truth-seeking spirit of UD is becoming more important than ever, and we need to rise to that challenge as a community. 

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